At this time last year, I was feeling distinctly uneasy about the state of the English language. In my post Is Modern Language Boring?, I fretted over our shrinking vocabulary and the resulting deterioration in the quality of our communication. I implored readers to do whatever they could to reverse the trend.
Had I known that there was already a high-profile group working tirelessly to promote colorful adjectives and inventive turns of phrase, I wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic. Who are these language superheroes, you ask? They’re not educators. They’re not linguists. They don’t work at the Oxford University Press, either. They are the announcers of the European football leagues.
Americans know the sport as soccer, but everywhere else in the world, it’s football. My husband, a lifelong player, has happily witnessed its growth in the U.S. over the years, so you can imagine how excited he was when Fox, NBC and ESPN began broadcasting English Premier League matches for American fans. Now he could follow all the action across the pond from the comfort of our family room.
It took only one soccer-watching Saturday morning to realize that the British announcers’ style was very different from anything we had ever heard in American sports broadcasting. Effective passes were described as “Brilliant!” “Lovely!” “Splendid!” or even “Delicious!” Alternatively, a poor effort was characterized as “Deplorable!” We heard one analyst lament that a player had lost the “silkiness” in his game. It was all so entertaining – and so vocabulary-enhancing at the same time!
Then last summer, embattled striker Luis Suarez left Liverpool for Barcelona. While Suarez’s behavior was often, well…Deplorable, his intense style of play was Delicious, and his absence was keenly felt on the pitch. Not to mention in our family room. There seemed no choice but to subscribe to BeIN Sports, the network that broadcasts Spanish La Liga matches.
And thank goodness we did. Otherwise, we might never have encountered the unparalleled linguistic dexterity of commentator Ray Hudson. His enthusiasm for the game is only surpassed by his enthusiasm for words, and one goal is all he needs to take off on a frenzied flight of descriptive fantasy.
When Leo Messi scored during a recent Barcelona v. Rayo Vallecano match, the gravelly-voiced Hudson called the forward “Magical!” and praised his “Wonderful, prismatic vision!” But that was just a warm-up. As the goal was replayed, he marveled at the way Messi slipped past defenders “Like smoke through a keyhole!” with ball-handling so smooth he was “Dripping honey on each touch!” He really said that!
Hudson has been known to describe goals as “Sublime!” “Exquisite!” “Celestial!” and – our favorite – “Magisterial!” In last week’s Barcelona v. Real Madrid El Clasico match, Neymar Jr. set Suarez up with a pass that Hudson first pronounced “An absolute 24-carat ingot of a ball!” and then during replay “A cross between a rapier and an absolute thunderbolt!” Suarez’s finish? “A beautiful kiss home.” I swear I’m not making this up.
Hudson’s lavish tributes can range from illuminating to downright perplexing. Many times, he helps you appreciate a player’s skill in a whole new way, such as, “Suarez peels away from his defenders like skin on a tangerine!” But he’s equally capable of tossing out a real head-scratcher, like the time he called a Jeremy Mathieu header “More accurate than a bucket full of knuckles!” If you have any idea what that means, please let me know.
Now, I realize that football announcers may not be able to save the English language all by themselves. But you do have to appreciate the passion and creativity they bring to it. Their spirited commentary not only enhances our enjoyment and knowledge of the game, it also reminds us of the dynamic power of words. Try using “magisterial” in conversation this week and you’ll see what I mean. Then check out some Ray Hudson highlights at the link below.