Thursday, June 9, 2016

L. O. S. T.: “Dominate” Syntax Rules!!

The Language of Sports Talk

ESPN vets Linda Cohn and Shelley Smith seemed to be doing a quick Mike and Mike imitation one Sunday morning a few weeks back. Smith’s reference to the crowd at a Justin Bieber concert – which had apparently been the prior evening’s curtain-jerker for Kobe Bryant’s Houston swansong – sparked an amusing “Two Moms Talkin’” digression akin to the morning boys’ shtick. When the Backstreet Boys got involved, it was time to get back to business.

This little interlude seemed spontaneous and genuine … I enjoyed it.

I had quite a different reaction to a bit (or it it a byte?) of verbiage the previous week that also emanated from right here in Houston and was likewise broadcast live, this time on the Mother Ship’s signature program, the 6PM SportsCenter.

The spunky young anchor’s faux-pas is one that pops up in print far too often these days, yet I can’t recall ever having heard it spoken aloud prior to this night which Villanova was soon to make historic in that very venue.

You see, there are certain words in our language whose appropriate pronunciation is dependent upon context. For example: When we approximate, we get an approximate result. [Or how about: When we intimate rather than elaborate, we should expect an intimate response only from an intimate.] Notice that when “approximate” or “intimate” is used to represent an action (i.e. as a verb), the final syllable gets spoken like the number “eight.” But when used to describe an outcome (i.e. as an adjective) or to identify someone/something (i.e. as a noun), the closing sound more resembles the pronoun “it.” [The Phonics Pholks may also want to note that verb usage also puts a “stress” on that final syllable.]

Certainly, recognizing patterns (in language usage and other areas, as well) and making inferences (i.e. generalizations) therefrom is a valuable learning device. Used indiscriminately, though, this tool can result in some cringe-worthy malapropos.

Somehow, one of these verbal nerve-graters has been elevated to the level of “Since you see it so often, it must be right!” status in the eyes (and inner ears) of far too many internet sports scribes, who write of “dominate” players or teams.

MY inner ear  always hears that misusage with the softer “it” ending. This error (perhaps too generously) can be written off as merely a mis-hearing or mispronunciation of the proper adjective form of this particular verb – “dominant,” whose final syllable incorporates a similarly soft, unstressed vowel-sound.

Alas, no such plausible explanation springs to mind when a prime-time  SportsCenter anchor speaks of the domin-EIGHT team in a given match-up.

ESPN, I got one word for ya’ – mentorship!