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From the booth: Defining the games you watch


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Ryan Casey
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By Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 13, 2005
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They're common language, but does the common Arizona sports fan honestly know where our popular sports terms stem from?

Starting close to the heart with America's pastime, football (or "pigskin," which dates as far back as 1894) has some quirky vocabulary.

Think about the wealth of words combined to create football's language. It's like writing the word "dog" 25 times - after a while, it just looks kind of weird.

While it's generally known that the word "pigskin" originated from the fact that the game's early balls were borne from the skin of a pig, did you know the term doubles as slang for a saddle? Me either.

Take Richard Kovalcheck's position for example. The "quarterback" ("signal caller" and "field general" also apply) actually gets its origins from Aussie Rules football, a relative to the American game.

With Arizona's men's and women's club rugby teams as examples, the positions in Aussie Rules are divvied up into forwards and backs (who must remain behind the ball - hence "back"), and within this division are quarter-backs, half-backs and a full-back.

It's all very logical.

Every position is named for the players' place on the field during a play (a quarter-back being one-fourth of the way back from the forwards, etc.). American football simply took the names from rugby and applied them to the sport we know and love - thus birthing "quarterback," "halfback" and "fullback."

Included in that list of borrowed terms is the phrase "line of scrimmage." According to an English language Web site, phrases.org.uk, the phrase is derived simply from the rugby term "scrum," in which opposing teams battle for the ball by packing together and pushing against the opponent's mass of players to win possession.

Here's another way of thinking of a scrum: Fuuuummmble! (As in "Darrell Brooks clears the running back's cobwebs and ... fuuuummmble!") Our "line of scrimmage" comes from the line created by the scrum when players, each on opposing sides, battle for the ball.

We move now to our former national pastime, baseball. Terms aren't as ambiguous concerning their origins.

Anyone can figure out why first base, second base and third base are so aptly named. Left field? Please. Closer? You can do better than that.

Shortstop? Now we're talking.

The origin of the position, currently manned by Mr. Crooked Hat, aka Arizona junior shortstop Jason Donald, has apparently been locked in the vaults of history.

However, one man, Cecil Adams, has pointed out that the term may have something to do with differences in fielding styles with the advent of the sport.

Apparently, shortstops of the game's early days fielded from the infield grass on a regular basis, as opposed to today's leaders of the infield, who usually are situated on the fringe of the outfield grass. It was their job to grab the "short" ground balls.

The term "southpaw" dates to the 1880s. Baseball diamonds are usually arranged to face east so batters can avoid looking into the sun during games.

A perfect example of this is our very own Sancet Stadium. If a left-handed pitcher - say Wildcat sophomore David Coulon - is on the mound, the ball's fired from the southern side of his body. "Paw," with thoughts of Wilbur Wildcat, is simply another word for hand.

Our neighbors to the north - no, not Northern Arizona - use what could be the most common term in all of sports: the "hat trick."

Here's an easy route with this one: Suppose Cole Dunlop of the Icecats scores three goals down in the Tucson Convention Center, the fans would respond in turn by throwing hats on the ice.

Though the tradition is internationally known, the reason fans throw hats stems from the late 19th-century English sport of cricket.

Seeking to simplify the complexities of that sport, one way the player delivering the ball (the "bowler") gets the batter out is by throwing the ball through a wicket behind the standing player.

If a bowler accomplished that feat three times in three attempts, he was given a free hat to honor the achievement. Hence, three goals, free hats. A great trick, right?

Rounding out this enlightenment of expression, I hope that one day "Mike Stoops" becomes the origin of the phrase "Rose Bowl Champions."

Ryan Casey is a journalism junior and the sports director at KAMP Student Radio. His radio show can be heard Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 1570 AM or at www.kamp.arizona.edu.



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