Language lessons across the USA and Canada

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Hyperbole: The Sport Commentator’s Greatest Tool. Ever.

hyperbole3The Super Bowl is sometimes called “the greatest sporting event in the world”. That’s quite a claim considering that the vast majority of fans hail from just one country. Baseball players dream of winning the World Series, which for a league including only one non-American team, is also absurd. Money is the primary driving force behind professional sports, so it’s no surprise that the marketing machine behind it expends every effort to exaggerate the ordinary and extract every dollar possible. If we don’t watch, sponsors don’t make money, so why not spice things up a bit?

Color commentators have been doing just that for decades, and they’ve become increasingly obnoxious along the way. For anyone who’s ever watched a baseball game where the batter “hit the ball into orbit” or a basketball game where the winning shot was made “from downtown”, it’s easy to relate to this phenomenon of hyperbole gone mad. The following are four words that should never be used to describe any play in a sporting event:

Literally – actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy

The comedian David Cross says it best in this bit poking fun at sports commentators:

“He literally ripped his head off on that play, oh my! And you’re like What? No he didn’t. Don’t…you shouldn’t be talking into a microphone and describing things to people.”

If the commentator’s job is to relay the action and emotion of a game to those who cannot be there, they are doing an incredible disservice. Used properly, this word is redundant in sports. Why not just say what actually happened? 

Unbelievable – too dubious or improbable to be believed

When Barry Bonds broke baseball’s home run record, it was hardly unbelievable, as it actually did happen (with the help of a massive quantity of steroids). In fact, it’s the commentator’s job to make the listener feel like everything is believable – otherwise the broadcast would have no credibility.

hyperbole1Miracle – an effect or extraordinary event in the physical word that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause

In the 1980 Winter Olympics, the United States men’s ice hockey team defeated the Soviet team. Given that the Soviet team had won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament since 1954, this feat was truly amazing, but to attribute it to the supernatural is absolutely ridiculous. But that’s just what sports writers did. This event has been permanently stamped the “Miracle on Ice”. Hell, Disney even made a movie about it.

Epic – heroic; majestic; impressively great

Pertaining most often to the great characters of mythology, this word could actually be useful in the world of sports if it were used in moderation. For instance, the feat described above could accurately be referred to as the “Epic on Ice”. The problem is that the word suggests something that can be expected to occur perhaps once every generation. When LeBron James finally won his first championship, it could have been described as great or even amazing, but epic? I think not.

What are some other hyperbolic words that should be eliminated from sports?