Friday, September 16, 2005

 

The Name Game

Fancy words are for pseudointellectuals, right? You shouldn't need to use a sesquipedalian word to describe a foot-and-a-half-long hotdog, eh? You just say it's looonng!

This argument is always in favor -- after all, learning big words can be hard. People flock to arguments supporting easy choices, like the ones which say that the body needs fat, that red wine is good for the heart, and that Jim Fixx died an early death.

But words which succinctly replace long explanations for specific things or concepts are indispensible. How can you say, "I regretted granting parole to Willie Horton," without using the high-level concepts of regret, granting and parole? That short sentence (pun intended) would grow unwieldy without these crucial words.

In sports and other areas of specialty, the special lexicon of terms of art serves as a way of "chunking" our knowledge so that we can use these chunks 1) to express ourselves more effectively, and 2) to create more sophisticated chunks incorporating deeper understanding. For example, if you were "tailgating" at the Bears game you were combining the concepts of party and pick-up truck. "Rubbernecking" involves traffic, accidents and curiosity. Examples abound.

In disc, words like "cag," "gratuitous," and "strike" convey important concepts. New slang phrases appear when a pattern of behavior is recognized as functionally distinct from other patterns. For example, many different handlers move without the disc in many different ways, but those who play cag stay behind the disc for easy resets at the expense of yardage gain and significant repositioning. Likewise, the strike call recognizes that free cutters up the sideline pose a unique kind of threat. When we say to a defender, "poach off the cag and clog the lane," we are communicating a sophisticated concept which requires the defender to know about the cag as well as poaching, positioning and throwing lanes. We need the previous terminology to issue the demand. If this behavior becomes so useful and popular (it won't), the sport may endow it with a name of its own, like "clagging." Think about how specific the squeeze play is in baseball. You need significant chunking to describe it.

We need to be able to refer to our game and its structures quickly and easily, and a growing lexicon helps us do that. Teams have their own terminology for positions and plays as well. Disc argot is different in different regions, too. When a certain group understands and accepts a terminology, there is a common knowledge base from which to grow.

None of this is revolutionary, but the (underappreciated?) point is that when terminology is not standardized (say, on your team) it is a real impediment to understanding and growth. A classic example is when you have just switched defenders with a teammate and he shouts "Stay!" Stay switched, or stay with the original? Another example is when rookies are not systematically instructed about the team's phrases. This sink-or-swim philosophy can only hurt the team.

Vive la dictionnaire!

Comments:
When I am on the sideline (more and more these days), I focus on being in a good position so I can verbally help my team. When we pull, this position is at the goal line of the other team. Frequently, I can hear, very clearly, the entire line call of the other team. I have had some conversations about the "Spirit" of turning around and telling my team what I just heard, but that is another conversation. I am going to assert that as the sport allows us to roam freely on the sideline, that what we hear is fair game, much like it is OK when a team makes a call for a cut ("the person who drove me here today!" or whatever) and the other team calls out who that is because they saw the two people pull up in the morning.

So, while we will continue to have parts of our vernacular enter the mainstream (strike, chase, etc), teams will continue to have to develop specific codes to hide their line calls.
 
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Wow, this guy is really smart! He must have gotten a good education somewhere...

Zaz, we got our first Zazbread pasta jam tonight to carb up for sectionals. We hope your tasty recipie will bring the Pain Train back to club regionals...
 
A few of our veterans realized last night that no matter how many times they yelled "you're poached!" to a rookie, they weren't going to know what to do about it. I think we need a vocabulary quiz at the next practice.

adam
 
To seigs:

At home I have the ingredients: french bread, garlic, mozzarella. But they're for bruschetta, stir-fry and pizza, respectively. Alas, I've strayed from my roots. Good luck at Sectionals!
 
Vocabulary may be nice, but it's more important to know what to do about it. Perhaps Adam will be happy if rookies begin to say "I'm poached!" and just stand there or run to the poacher.

The other day at practice, there was some ambiguity about who should cut next on a swing, and the other guy said to me after the point, "I thought you should cut, but I wasn't sure how to convey that." I replied, "How about, 'You go"?" I explained that even though it was just plain English, only the two of us would be able to take the instruction and process it quickly enough to act on it. Even if he had used a special code word, I still would have had to have been aware of the possibility of it being used in order to act on it promptly. And the defense would not be able to hear "you go" and know who should go where in time to prevent the cut.

George, maybe you should just go onto the field and stand in their huddle until the point begins. There is nothing in the rules against that. Or perhaps you can bring your special booms (or hire a lip reader) to improve your chances of overhearing.

More seriously, I do think there is a difference between your examples. There is an expectation of privacy on the line, as the nearest opposing PLAYER is 70 yards away. It's not like in football, where you are huddling 10 yards from the defense and it's likely that they could honestly overhear without the huddle. I think the game would be a little bit worse if more people semi-intentionally eavesdropped resulting in the 7 on the line huddling to call their plays.
 
Has anyone ever used a written "exam" to try and teach plays or other important concepts? I am sure this would only be beneficial in the college and lower tiers. Good in theory?
 
I think the game would be a little bit worse if more people semi-intentionally eavesdropped resulting in the 7 on the line huddling to call their plays.

We'd get a lot more "hold your line" calls from the pulling team, followed by more "bite me" retorts from the receiving team. Whether or not this is a bad thing, who knows.
 
There are a few issues here that need to be distinguished.

1. Communicating with your teammates.
2. Communication in the presence of opponents.
3. Ensuring the teammate responds appropriately.

The issues are

1. Expression.
2. Encryption.
3. Response.

My post was about expression. Action upon response is clearly another matter (e.g., what to do about a poach once you know it's there). Encryption involves communication but is also separate. The encryption, if any, of cell phone or internet communication takes place unbeknownst to the speakers.
 
Jim said: "I think the game would be a little bit worse if more people semi-intentionally eavesdropped resulting in the 7 on the line huddling to call their plays."

I am not sure I agree with this. I saw Amherst High School play at a tournament recently. At certain times, they would do a little 7 person huddle just to touch base and get in synch. I think it was additive to the game, so I don't think it would be negative if teams huddled briefly if they wanted to.

-G
 
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