Jim O'Connell says clichés and jargon should be kept on the bench.
Clichés, says the AP's national college basketball writer, are a sign of laziness.
That lesson was drilled into him from Associated Press sports editor Darrell Christian who lambasted anybody who used them and any editor who allowed them to remain in copy sent over the wires—especially jargon like "Cinderella" and "back to the wall."
"God help anybody who couldn't come up with something better to describe an underdog's victory or a tough situation," O'Connell says.
Broadcasting, no doubt, has influenced many of today's sports writers. Thanks to SportsCenter and sports talk radio, we have phrases like "cool as the other side of the pillow," "en fuego," and "aloha means goodbye." And games are played with "pigskins" and "rawhides," rebounds are "caroms," tight games are "nail biters" or "pressure cookers," and where teams play "with a sense of urgency," "dodging bullets" to knock down "treys," hit "clingers," and record "hat tricks." Sigh.
"I believe a lot of cliché use comes from trying to prove that you know the latest sports speak or that you might be trying to dumb it down for the reader," O'Connell says. "Don't do either."
Sports has always had an esoteric language, one that includes insider terms and phrases that fans like to use during conversations—as if they were part of a secret code. But save these terms for your buddies. Clichés and jargon should be avoided. (Yes, like the proverbial plague.)
"None of us are above this, but the writer who resorts to cliché is like the basketball player who doesn't get back on defense or the baseball player who doesn't run out the ground ball," says Sports Illustrated's L. Jon Wertheim. "Clichés are lazy displays that often fail the audience. Saying that an athlete 'gets going when the going gets tough,' or 'fires all cylinders,' or 'gives 100 percent,' or 'gets it done during crunch time' doesn't tell us much. The sports world is, unfortunately, loaded with clichés, but let the athletes traffic in 'taking it one at a time' or 'having a gun for an arm."
AP national golf writer Doug Ferguson suggests sports writers observe more and take note of specific details that can replace these meaningless terms.
You can also tweak a cliché, suggests Wertheim, and give an old saying a fresh twist. Perhaps, two basketball players worked so well together that they were on the same paragraph. Or, maybe a coach needs to wake up and smell the frappuccino.
In addition, writers should avoid comparing sports to war or economic struggles—or any other serious issues.
Sports writers are translators, explaining the action in games for fans and interpreting the language for those who are not fluent.
There's nothing creative about using clichés. Plain, clear, accurate language is difficult to beat when you're trying to "step up to the next level."
It's impossible to narrow clichés to a top 10 (or 100) list. Yet, here are some words and phrases that can wreak havoc with your writing IQ.
biscuit in the basket - goal
bounce back - a player or team is getting ready to play after a poor performance
came up big - played very well
charity stripe - free-throw line
dinger - home run
heartbreaker - tough loss
hooked up - completed pass
payback - game a team is set to play a team it lost to the last time
pigskin - football
rawhide - baseball
star player - talented player
threw a pick 6 - threw an interception returned for a touchdown