January 25, 2007

The importance of scoring

Dr. Holbrook Gerund, Nike Professor of Linguistics at Vine-Covered University, explains an obscure scholarly point about Sports Swedish to Tank McNamara:

Comics don't have footnotes, so I'll step in to provide the key reference to the seminal work of Yalt (1970), originally published in Cleese et al., Episode 25.

I'll add a slightly more serious observation. When a coach describes his game plan by saying "We're going to try to outscore them", or when an analyst says about (say) the Chicago Bears that "They win by outscoring their opponent", this is not as witless as it might seem to some. (These are both direct quotes from articles currently indexed by Google News.)

Unlike Professor Gerund, I'm ignorant of Sports Swedish, but I know that in Sports English, the verb outscore often means "defeat <someone> by focusing on the offensive rather than defensive aspects of the game".

Some examples from the current Google News index:

"We never try to outscore anybody," Collegiate coach Chance Lindley said. "We always try to outdefend them."
“We don’t try to outscore people, that’s not what we’re about. We won 17 games off of defense, and we lost one game off trying to score more points.”
"I don't think you can win in this league thinking you can outscore everybody," Barone said. "You have to guard."
“When you think of good teams, you think of good defenses,” Gates said. “It's very seldom you have a St. Louis where you just try to outscore everybody."

In general, Sports English is under-represented in dictionaries. The word outscore is missing altogether from the AHD and Encarta, and this sense is missing from the OED and M-W's 3rd, which give only the glosses "to surpass (another) in scoring points; to score more than (another player or team)" and "to score more points than", respectively.

Note, though, that this meaning of "winning by focus on offense" is not just a lexical fact about outscore -- it's a general (and natural) extension of the concept of registering a higher score than the opponent, however that might be expressed. Thus

When it came to discussion about the actual game, Grossman similarly disliked a suggestion that the Bears might employ a ball-control, clock-eating attack to keep the high-octane Saints offense sidelined.
"I'm looking to score more points than they do," Grossman said. "I'm not looking to hold the ball. That's just my perspective right now on Wednesday. That just seems to make sense to me."

But this was the first shootout, marching up and down the field, the first time USC had to win just by putting more points on the board than the other guy.

It is admirable that coach Scott has the ability to motivate and teach his players to play great team defense. However, the object of the game is to put more points on the board than your opponent!

[Update -- Daniel Ezra Johnson points out that some comics do have footnotes...]

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 25, 2007 07:43 AM