The Tennisman who Loves Cyclism

Bonne 14 juillet! Yes, it’s the French national holiday, known in English as Bastille Day though in French it’s normally just called le 14 juillet, or La Fête nationale. As French is one of the only two languages apart from English that I’m relatively competent in, I’ve written about it here quite a bit, so I won’t repeat myself. I just want to look at two French words that seem like they really should be English words, but aren’t.

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Anyone for Tennis?

The beginning of Wimbledon always feels like the real start of the summer to me, regardless of how rainy and windy it is outside. I used to enjoy playing tennis in the summer as a child, and it was always enjoyable to play in the morning and then come inside when it started to rain and watch the professionals play on TV. I think I also enjoyed the aesthetics of Wimbledon, all those nice bright whites and greens, though now I’m a little put off by the whole poshness of it all. I mean, curtsying? Really? Anyway, even if I’m too busy to watch it during the day anymore, I like to keep half an eye on how things are progressing in the tournament. Did you ever notice though, that there’s one strange thing about tennis in general: why do they use such strange words for the scores? Continue reading

Only the Winningest

There are many clear differences between American and British English, particularly in terms of spelling and vocabulary. It’s natural enough, and I’m loath to say that one is better than the other. They both work for the people who use them, and that’s what matters. Recently though, I’ve been thinking about one area in which British and American English are very different: sport.

Even that word itself shows the beginning of the division: if you’re American you probably use sports when referring to the general concept of sport(s) (when I hear the word I always hear Homer Simpson’s final line from this clip:) Continue reading

Derny Look Great?


Every four years, at least once while watching the Olympics, I’ll have a look at the schedule for the day, I’ll come across a sport listed and ask The what??? Keirin!? What on earth is that!? It seems that with every Olympic Games my vocabulary widens thanks to names of specific forms of sports I’ll never encounter again in my life. So here’s a quick look at some of those oh-so specific terms we’ve been hearing for the last week and a bit:

Keirin: a type of cycling race in which the riders sprint after a few speed-controlled laps in which they have to follow a man on a motorized bicycle called a derny. When I see the derny rider, I always think: Who is he? Does he only ever ride a derny? What does he do with the rest of his time? I don’t think I could do that, help people win glory without having a chance myself. Also, it looks really silly.

Repechage: a stage in a competition in which competitors who failed to proceed to the final round, usually by a small margin, get another chance to qualify. It sounds much nicer than losers’ round, but then when you consider the original meaning in French—fishing out/rescuing—the name sounds deliberately humiliating.

Shuttlecock: Hee hee! The little thing they hit around in badminton. Shuttle coming from the meaning to move quickly back and forth, and cock from its resemblance to a male bird’s plumage (and nothing else).

Fosbury Flop: The method employed by high jumpers to go over the bar backwards. Popularised by American athlete Dick Fosbury in 1965. Before he introduced his technique, athletes used a variety of forward-facing methods, all of which looked incredibly undignified, and can be seen in video below:

Laser Radial: Not a classic sci-fi novel, but a class of sailing boat, seemingly so-called because it sounds cool. And why not?

Corruption: sadly, there are probably too many words to cover here, so I’ll have to do another list of Olympics-related corruption vocabulary.