On Language (Jerry Manuel edition)

Baseball has a language of its own, constantly evolving. The name of my occasional baseball blog is meant to pay homage to baseball and its unique lexicon, the oldest of which Steve Rushin once bemoaned was as dead as Latin. One of the reasons my father tapes Yankee manager post-game press conferences is just so he can get his anger up listening to Joe Girardi alibi for his pitchers by talking about, as The Old Man puts it, their “arm slots” being off. Not arm angle, but arm slot. My father’s point is that why can’t Girardi just say they didn’t pitch so good (like any good ol’ manager), instead of trying to sound smarter (Girardi has an engineering degree from Northwestern, don’t you know) and otherwise cover up for his players’ poor performances? But as much as it grates him to hear Girardi say it, arm slot is just another part of baseball’s ever-developing way of words.

(A personal favorite, which I tried to explain to my somewhat confused 3½-year-old, is Twi-night, for the type of doubleheader you rarely, if ever, see anymore).

So, when I heard Jerry Manuel talk about Mike Pelfrey and his “pitchability”after his win Tuesday night, I loved it. I’m sure the word has been around the coaching circles for a while, but I still loved the word, and love it even more coming from Manuel. Makes me wish William Safire was still around so he could investigate the etymology of “pitchability.”

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Originally published June 12, 2010, 1:49 a.m. at my sometime baseball blog, Clutch Bingles.


William Safire RIP

Wow, have I got some catching up to do. As I’ve previously mentioned, yep, I’m a hypocrite. But here are some items I threw up on my Facebook page in the last month that I wanted to include here. So, previously, on Facebook…

  • William Safire, dead at 79: Great lexicographer, I carry a well-thumbed copy of his Political Dictionary in my work bag. May have disagreed politically, but the man was a damn smart writer. A man who knew the power of words and speeches, and despite our political differences (and some of his questionable journalism), a man I enjoyed reading for his love of language.
  • ESPN.com: Selling out more than previously thought possible? To borrow from Sports Illustrated, that week’s sign that the apocalypse is upon us: Bill Simmons, Brought to You by Miller Lite
  • Belatedly (on my part), Happy Labor Day from the execrable Gannett Corp.: The New York Times’ David Carr, writing about  The Journal News of Westchester: “…(R)eporters at The Journal News don’t work in a newsroom, they are part of an ‘Information Center’; they don’t cover beats, they cover ‘topics’; and in a new wrinkle to an old story, the staff was not being laid off, but becoming part of a ‘comprehensive restructuring plan.'”

On Safire, Obama and naming the Joshua Generation

William Safire takes his unique lexical look at the ongoing generation-naming debate, sparked by the election of our first Generation X President (more here and here, too). (And I love the lede of Safire’s column: “Welcome to the socio-literary parlor game of ‘Name That Generation.'” Of course, I am a fan of most things Safire writes. But I digress.)

Safire begins with the Gertrude Stein-coined, Hemingway-cited “Lost Generation,” which appears as one of the two epigraphs that opens “The Sun Also Rises.” Safire also quotes Neil Howe, of Strauss & Howe fame and co-author of the groundbreaking book Generations, and whose work obviously heavily influences this blog.

Safire reminds us of a couple of once heavily used generational names that look a little hazy in the distance, but at the time, were quite popular in their usage: the Beat Generation and the Me Generation. Best as I can rationalize, those names now appear to be better suited to the period they were used in, or at least appearing to be a subset of the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, respectively.

Where Safire really hits home is his use of the term “Joshua Generation” to apply specifically to African-Americans like President-elect Obama — those who came of age after the great Civil Rights battles of the last century, and are now reaping the rewards of the work of those in the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and later (actually, Safire cites Obama citing the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. who reminded the president-elect to “look at the story of Joshua because you’re part of the Joshua generation.”
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