May 11, 2005

Stottlemyre's Save Helps Brown Gets Untracked

Above you see (I kid you not!) a headline which I copied from the NY Times Sports page.   It appears to have an egregious grammar error ("gets") unless there's a parse that I'm just not seeing. And yes, this was printed on one line, so it couldn't be that the line space was meant to serve the place of a punctuation indicator, like, "Stottlemeyer's save helps.  Brown gets untracked."  Maybe this would indeed in some ways preserve the sense of what's said in the article. Though Sottlemyre is the pitching coach and Brown is the pitcher, so I guess even this wouldn't make sense.

But I mainly mean to point to the word "untracked."   I first thought I heard this when I moved to Philly in about 1960 and was listening to an announcer call a hockey game:  "If the Flyers don't get untracked in the next period, they're gonna lose this game."  Everyone said I had misheard and that the announcer must have said "on track."   I have heard this more and more often in recent years, yet many people still tell me there's "no such word" and that nobody ever says that.  Hooey, as you see. Note that "getting on track" and "getting untracked" are both positive states of affairs though at first hearing they would seem contradictory.   I believe, though, that the earlier locution alluded to railroads (where it's good to be on track) and the later urban analogy must have been to getting your car wheel stuck in the trolley tracks, a condition from which you'd like to recover, thus getting "untracked" would again be good).   After all, there's the old "in a rut" which clearly comes from muddy dirt roads and wagon wheels and is a parlous condition.

So I consider a language change to be complete when it shows up IN PRINT in the NY Times.   Especially in a headline.  Or maybe they're trying to be bloggy?

Posted by Lila Gleitman at May 11, 2005 07:38 AM