OPED: The vocabulary of politics and pigskin
For many of us, this is not just the best time of the year; it's the greatest three months of the last four years. When the cooling temperatures of fall collide with the hot air mass of presidential politics and football, we move into a divine volatility, where from our armchairs we can feast on visceral verbiage, crushing hits and a language that seems to feed on itself.
In a realm where sports parlance has long been the province of politics, the football vocabulary offers a rich menu. Tune in to the first quarter of any game and you'll hear the better team lauded for its "downhill, smashmouth" style. That's so much more exhilarating than hearing a management consultant droning on about "skill sets" or an economist arguing "price points."
Then surf over to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC and see how long it takes the talking head to refer to a candidate's "ground game," particularly in a "battleground state."
It's no coincidence that one such state is Ohio, where Woody Hayes coached Ohio State football for 28 years. The legendary Hayes logged five national championships, 13 Big Ten Conference championships, and 58 quotable quotes on the website AZquotes.com. All of this makes him an expert on what an effective ground game is:
"You don't get hurt running straight ahead ... three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. I will pound you and pound you until you quit."
Who among the pols, junkies and pundits doesn't revel in such language?
Certainly the pundits do. Listen to them long enough and you'll notice something else: They tend to repeat the same descriptive words and phrases so often that you'll wonder whether they're more interested in copying their peers than informing you.
In the interest of the latter, I offer this primer on the favored words and phrases of campaign 2016:
Authentic: Genuine, unadulterated. Usually referring to a candidate's character and temperament, but sometimes, skeptically, to his hair.
Trajectory: The path or progression of a campaign. Most often used when the path resembles that of the Hindenburg on May 6, 1937.
" ... takes all the oxygen out of the room": For commentators, it's the effect of Donald Trump on the race. For progressives, it's the effect of global warming.
Optics: In science, the study of sight. In politics, how an event plays with the public. In business, the subject that has turned focus groups into cash cows for political entrepreneurs.
Decorations: The people you line up behind you when you are engaging in a self-congratulatory news conference.
Full-throated criticism: See "Red-meat speech," below.
Red-meat speech: See "full-throated criticism," above.
Oppo-research: Getting the goods on your opponent's unspeakable past. Also refers to the genealogical probe to find the missing Marx brother.
Staying on message: Opting to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership even though it's a lot more interesting to opine on former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner.
New normal: Calling your opponents liars, crooks and ugly. The old normal was just calling them bozos. (See 1992 campaign, George H.W. Bush reference to Bill Clinton and Al Gore.)
Some, namely the sensible members of our families, rue the length of football seasons and presidential campaigns. We, however, dread an endless off-season of bridge-safety hearings and potential free-agent signings. In our grief, we can't get a lyric out of our heads. It's a despondent Gordon Lightfoot singing, "The feeling's gone, and I just can't get it back."
— Bob Martin is a retired Philadelphia Inquirer writer and editor.