Sunday, January 11, 2009

Match of The Day - where the English language goes to die

David Moyes has just been interviewed on MOTD. He's an intelligent, articulate man. In answer to a question about a chance Everton could have taken he replied, clear as a bell, "Yes. We could of." Is this a solecism or a barbarism? Either way it's increasingly the expression that people use. Does it not occur to them that of the two words they're using one is completely the wrong one?

The other one that puzzles me in football is "stonewall penalty". This has only appeared in the last few years. It must have started off as a "stone" penalty. "Stone" is the hipster adjective that denotes "utterly" and "unarguably", as in "stone fox" or "stone free". Once it was adopted even the linguistic vandals who comment on football couldn't work out what it meant and therefore it slowly morphed into "stonewall penalty" because at least that sounded like a football term.


  1. I'm afraid that the "stonewall penalty" has occasionally been know to morph into the "stone bonkers" penalty. Whether this is more or less certain than one that is "nailed-on" is uncertain at this point.

  2. I'd want to forgive a "could of" in spoken English as it's aurally similar to "could've".

    I'll willing defend such errors as my father is a grammar pedant and reading your post raises neck-burning memories of him picking apart my homework, complaining about missed apostrophes whilst saying nothing about the content.

    To this day I have enormous anxiety about writing, as when I start typing I can hear the clanging bells of my father's criticisms. Well, not every time, but certainly today, whilst reading this blog.

  3. But that's my point. He didn't say "could've". He said "could of". Two distinct words, one of which has no business there. He'd grown so use to hearing the contraction that he couldn't work back to the actual words being contracted.

  4. Sorry to be a bit of a tosspot, but shouldn’t it be “used to hearing to hearing the contraction”? I always assumed it was a past participle, a synonym for “accustomed“.

  5. That missing "d" is my fat fingers.

  6. Presumed so, but occuring as it does in that sentence is what Motty would call “a delicous irony”.

  7. Away from the grammar/typographical error/misplaced finger issue, David's original point is an interesting one. The 'stonewall penalty' is a good example, perhaps, of how a word, or phrase, becomes corrupted, and then, by slipping into common use, it morphs into 'acceptance'.
    I have no idea how we moved from a 'definite' penalty, to a 'stonewall' penalty, but I will propose that it may have derived from the practice of putting former players 'on the spot' in the colour commentator role, or from a snatched interview with a red-faced manager immediately after a game. In such circumstances, the less articulate interviewee tends to snatch for words, like a kingfisher swooping for its prey in a swiftly moving stream of subconsciousness, and will light upon an adjective that he, or less likely, she, feels will add further depth to the noun.
    Perhaps a Yorkshireman (?) brought up to be aware from birth of the strength at the heart of a stone wall, added it in, without thinking, to underpin the strength of feeling behind the penalty appeal...


  8. yes, it is a shame isn't it. Participant comment after football matches used to be so much better and of such high quality. I remember when that PG wodehouse used/use [delete according to tase] to manage Chelsea...etc

  9. half time interviews are way better

  10. Sports broadcasting has always been guilty of atrocities against language. Adverbs are pretty well extinct there. I saw John Parrott on the Beeb earlier today saying that some snooker player has been "playing very good recently." A new low, I felt.

    In Ireland we have one or two influential sportscasters who frequently use 'seminal' to mean 'critical' or crucial'. It bugs me no end.

  11. These might be of interest David,

    and this - you have to scroll down a bit.

    'stonewall penalty' sounds like Fergie-ism to me. Stone cold penalty, as in dead certain, is the one 'I'd of' used.

  12. If you want to hear a wonderful lecture on this very subject (or the ideas behind this subject), try Mr Stephen Fry's latest. It's quite brilliant.

  13. I think Mr Fry's point was that you can say what you like, how you like as long as it gets your juices flowing and makes others kick up their heels in admiration..

    This from the

    In football, where an unambigous foul is committed in the penalty area. The prefix 'Stonewall' is used to highlight the obvious nature of the incident; stonewall being a particular type of wall used throughout Scottish highlands and other mountainous regions as they are really obvious and nobody ever walks into them, ever. Except the occasional rambling referee.
    "The referee has walked right into that one! He must have been swayed by the fans here at Old Trafford. The player has been hacked down at the waist by a flying scissor kick just outside the six yard box but the ball has not been touched. That was a stonewall penalty."

  14. Anonymous1:12 pm

    Given that David Moyes is a football team manager and you're a writer / broadcaster don't you think you're being a tiny bit pendantic ?

    DW x

  15. Football commentators in particular should just listen to themselves. The endless cliche and repetition is miserable. How can Jonathan Pearce think that saying 'gets his shot away' scores of times a match, match after match, isn't irritating? Perhaps he hasn't thought about it. Is that professional?

  16. Chelsea could of done better yesterday.

  17. I think all of us of a duty to point out where he's going wrong.

  18. I mentioned it on here a couple of days ago, and I'll mention it again, as the authoritative reference work on the subject: "Football Lexicon" by Leigh & Woodhouse. It lists "stone-cold", "stone-wall", "cast-iron" and "nailed-on" as synonyms for describing penalties "...especially when the referee says it was not".

    I vaguely remember a relatively articulate footballer (probably Pat Nevin, then) protesting that the questions asked of players straight after a match are so cliched and meaningless that the answers are bound to be on the same level. Especially after "ninety minutes of sheer hell".

    Studio pundits have less of an excuse, of course. They might as well employ Russell Grant for all the lengthy but futile attempts they make to find order in the wonderful chaos of sport.

  19. STONEWALL (verb)
    The verb STONEWALL has 2 senses:

    1. obstruct or hinder any discussion
    2. engage in delaying tactics or refuse to cooperate

    Stonewall may not be a regularly used word but in relation to a penalty seems like a reasonable and acceptable use of the english language and if you want to give credit to Fergie (not the most articulate manager around) and I reckon he'd be well pleased.

    1. Stonewall penalty was coined by Tony pulis not Alex Ferguson or sir Alex as he is now known
      There is a reason football managers are who they are - they are not good enough to be English teachers