Prepare to learn new words

Published 12:00 pm Friday, January 22, 2016

Should someone ask you what the educational channel is on television, you are likely to reply “ETV.”

Until recently such an answer would have covered the field — but not anymore. As with everything in life, copycats and mutations begin to register on our screens. Now a benevolent power brings a supplement to ETV. Its call sign is ESPN, which may stand for Extra Sensory Perception Network.

What, you are asking yourself or your friend across the table, is Ray babbling about? Doesn’t the man have even a college degree? Can it be that he watches “that” network like common jocks do? Among the last associations most people have for ESPN is that it is educational. Beyond the hot air spilled by ex-jocks who know everything every player is doing in every sport known to man and the painful shrieks of players such as Maria Sharapova on tennis courts, what is there to learn on a sports network?

Email newsletter signup

Well, Charley, just pull up a stool and listen. I do, to the embarrassment of some sweet departed souls from the Mississippi College English faculty, have a degree. In English, no less. Hence, I am certified to examine, explain and commentate about our language. Why, just this morning in a nice dentist’s office, I spotted two misplaced commas that separated compound verbs in two sentences. If they want my continued donations, such errant commas must be purged.

In addition to punctuation, I’m always on the alert for new words. As new social or technological activities come along, a new vocabulary usually comes with them. As folks become habituated to hearing these new lexical pieces, they may lose their fascination. If a technology becomes “old hat,” the words themselves may disappear from our daily speech. Think about A-OK and other words that came along when NASA’s latest coups was the lead story on the evening news. Cronkite seemed to relish beginning the nightly news with another astronaut tale.

No, I didn’t forget where I was going. Just wanted to paint the landscape for word watchers and folks who turn on ESPN. At least three words have been bestowed upon the language from the halls (locker rooms) of stadii and studio. The earliest that my semantic radar locked onto was a word that (I think) describes an athlete’s stamina and strength: physicality. One of the talking heads says to the other, “Did you see the physicality in that tackle?” Darn, I missed it too. Even when the play was replayed twice, I didn’t see the physicality. Of course, Dummy 2 agrees that it was awesome physicality.

About a year after my first “physicality” came a new lexical feat: athleticism. A coach is often heard commenting that the losing team had great athleticism but just didn’t show it in this game. Now for the life of me, I have a tough time with this one. Anything an athlete does on a playing surface is athletic. Somehow, though, if some ethereal mood prevails, that athletic fact becomes athleticism. Go figure. In one postgame ad nausea recap “athleticism” raised its ugly head three times.

Finally, but perhaps easier to decode, comes the latest neologism from ESPN: trickeration. I’ll not bore you with the probable meaning, but one might be curious. A game is usually played where spectators can observe the action. In most sports a group of people, presumably adept in observation of rules violation, manage the event.

Now I ask you: Where does trickeration come into the formulation?

And so, fans, when you next tune in to ESPN, be prepared to learn new words — or at least how some grown, overpaid talking heads generate new forms of pomp and verbosity.

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at