Speaking Freely with “Your People” – Conveying Information with Few Words

Gloria Anzaldua’s piece “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” describes cultural aggression and is very heavy handed in doing so.  Though it is a very important (and relevant) topic and there is much to be said about it in the United States, I thought a different angle to this would be to address the point about people finding unity in language.  My example is sports fans.  They can find “their people” based on the jargon used.

There have been words and phrases appropriated outside of sports. “Armchair quarterback” and  “backseat driver” are not necessarily the same, but at times the former is more appropriate.  People who have a lot of driving experience have definitely experienced a passenger trying to micromanage their driving to no end.  The occurrence is so common that it has entered our mainstream English vocabulary.  “Armchair quarterback” refers to a person that is obviously not playing in the football game, talking about what the players should be doing.  The implication is that the “football critic” is ridiculous because they don’t have the knowledge or ability to properly criticize the team.  This can be quite applicable to work situations.  Obviously, gossiping is a bad work practice but that is a common situation and has similarly entered mainstream vocabulary.

The meanings behind phrases such as “Slam Diego” (team moniker) or “hesi pull-up jimbo” (a memetic joke) could be figured out by a casual fan, but they are very incomplete without context.  To an outsider, it would be very difficult to describe the reason behind why some of these events are notable and probably seems idiotic to sports haters.  However, say one of these phrases to anyone “in the know” and nothing more needs to be said.  While this example is not on such a serious level as what Anzaldua wrote about, it is interesting that it will take me more than 200 words to describe “Slam Diego” to an outsider when that information could be conveyed in much less to even a casual fan.

“Slam Diego” refers to a baseball game in 2020 where a player for the San Diego Padres team hit a grand slam (best possible hit), in a lopsided game.  The opposing Texas Rangers were (unjustifiably) upset about the score being run up and tried to start a fight, which ended with suspensions and the manager complaining in the interview after the game.  This sparked a widespread condemnation throughout the baseball community for those actions and a discussion about “unwritten” rules of the game.  In an objectively strategic perspective, the game of baseball has no mechanism to stall out the game to end it.  You can’t run out a clock if the score is lopsided like most other sports where it’s done with a sense of respect for the opponents’ dignity.  Though very rare, there have been very large documented comebacks in baseball history.  Therefore, if the losing team isn’t giving up, then why should the winning team stop scoring?  That train of logic put the debate to rest.  The San Diego Padres continued to hit grand slams game after game in a cosmically comedic fashion (the occurrence of these grand slams was so rare that they did multiple feats that never happened in 100+ years).  Thus, fans gave the moniker to the team to commemorate what happened.

“With Chicanas from Nuevo México or Arizona I will speak Chicano Spanish a little, but often they don’t understand what I’m saying. With most California Chicanas I speak entirely in English (unless I forget). When I first moved to San Francisco, I’d rattle off something in Spanish, unintentionally embarrassing them. Often it is only with another Chicana tejana that I can talk freely.” (Anzaldua, pg. 71)

The selected quote describes how free Anzaldua feels when speaking with different sets of people.  Upon reflecting on the first and second set of phrases, there are various barriers when it comes to decoding slang.  For sports fans, you have some different groups with some overlaps: non-fluent speakers, non-native speakers, non-fans, casual fans, and ultra fans.  Through this exercise, it becomes apparent that for speakers of dialects of a language like Spanish will have several regional and class divisions.  Through the sharing of language, everyone learns and time will tell if these words and phrases become generally recognized and accepted.  To relate to Anzaldua, this is not only restricted to a dialect but can extend beyond regions and even to very small groups such as friends of family.

2 thoughts on “Speaking Freely with “Your People” – Conveying Information with Few Words

  1. It is so important to focus on how language can unify. I think your sports terms do this, and in many other hobby cultures, there are so many terms that can help unify and “find your people.” However, your post reminded me of the rhetorical scholar Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification. Essentially, Burke claims that communication, and more specifically, persuasion, can only be achieved by broadcasting to your audience how you are the same in some way. But, this need to broadcast such sameness is dependent on the existence of division. That is, you can only be unified through your difference with others….there would be no need for an aim toward unity if there was no division. So, this makes me wonder a lot about who is and who isn’t allowed to take pleasure in such unity. I think sports fans mostly can (and this seems to match my personal experience as a sports fan). This is less clear for language users who come from marginalized groups or use marginalized languages.

    I can’t stand that unwritten rule crap in baseball! It kills the fun in the game. The NFL went through this for a while, too, but they have lightened up quite a bit (e.g., celebrations). I hope the MLB can relax and let players do what’s best to win as well as have fun while doing so.

  2. I was particularly impressed by your grasp of US Sports Fan language and especially the term “armchair quarterback.” The idea of someone criticizing participants yet they themselves play no direct part in an activity is something that is all too common not only in the sporting world but in almost every other area of life. Therefore, the use of language to describe such a person is quite welcome because it describes them in way that would have been difficult to do when using standard mainstream or academic English.

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