First Down!

I was having a gentle toddle along one of the corridors in this lovely Care Home when an inmate who was in their room began calling out. It was so loud that it reminded me of a tale by Agatha Christie, because the sound was so anguished and it made me wonder if a person was in fear of their life! I hasten to assure you that this was not the case at all, they were in fact being treated to a gentle manicure by a couple of Carers. Apparently the inmate has dementia and I am told that it can be difficult to get such sufferers to understand what is truly going on around them. But it made me think of the sounds, the words, the phrases, the terminology we use in our English (British) language. I have made a point of adding the country here, because I am a member as well as a sometimes contributor of a Facebook group called G.A.S.P. (Grammar And Spelling Police) which was set up by some people in America. I have mentioned them in the past because their wording, spelling and even phraseology can be entertaining, in some cases very different from that which we use. But I know that some folk there have expressed amusement at the things we say here. For the most part it is all taken very much in good humour, but there have been odd occasions when things have become ever so slightly ‘heated’! There is one famous quote by the playwright George Bernard Shaw, which is that Britain and the USA are “Two nations separated by a common language” and that is how it is in G.A.S.P., as we share amusing misquotes, signs, spelling errors, all that sort of thing. It is not to make fun of the author, whoever they are, but more to see how our language can create amusement, sometimes by a simple error in translation from one language to another. In this Facebook group, one person asked how they might be able to improve their English and without exception, all of us that replied said they should read more, they should have a dictionary nearby and look up ’new’ words, they should also write these new words down and use them whenever they could. It was how I was taught and it is refreshing to learn that others were taught just the same way. I am quite a fan of Agatha Christie’s work, she wrote many good books that have been turned into films. So as I was writing this, I recalled one work where our heroine, Miss Marple, is in a lawyers office and the lawyer spoke a legal word I did not know. I thought it was ’tonteen’, as that is how I heard it, but when I came to write it here this clever computer soon corrected me. It is actually ’tontine’. But I still checked on the word, finding it to mean “an annuity shared by subscribers to a loan or common fund, the shares increasing as subscribers die until the last survivor enjoys the whole income”. There are so many words, some rarely used, which are particular to a profession or sport. I have mentioned in previous writings about my very keen interest in photography and how I combined it with my teaching to start up my own business, helping folk how to take clearer, better photographs and then to use a computer to share their photos with others. A few years before that I joined a civilian pistol and rifle club as I was introduced by a good friend of mine who was stationed at RAF Wittering. There were times when he would represent his RAF station at the shooting events at Bisley and I believe this was quite an honour for him. So I learned to shoot using various handguns, it also meant that I was taught the proper stance for holding and firing them, something I found tremendously useful when taking photographs, as the stance when shooting with a camera is very similar, providing as it does a firm and stable platform. What was equally fascinating was the terminology used, it highlighted that many words and phrases which are used in the English language do in so many cases cross over from one hobby or profession to another. A while later I was invited over to RAF Wittering, where my friend introduced me to others there. So I suppose it was natural for me to be asked which RAF station I was from, but on learning that I was a civilian the group turned away and virtually ignored me. Except my friend included me in their conversation as I was able to talk reasonably knowledgeably about shooting with handguns as well as my experience with them and how aspects of taking photos and generally handling a camera came in useful when handling a handgun. It fascinated me to see how the group then opened up and began including me in their talk. I have written before about how technical phrases in one environment can often mean something entirely different in another, whilst other terms may be well known to some but completely unknown to others. We can so easily forget this and assume that others know what we know, however I am reminded that when using the word ‘assume’ that we do not inadvertently make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’! With the coming of the Internet, the use of online dictionaries and more people using computers, I think it is going to happen that we learn more things, more words and phrases that at one time would have been totally unknown to us! This is very true in the world of sport.

American Football vs Rugby

Some years ago one terrestrial tv channel in the UK began to broadcast the pre-season games of American Football. I watched it, became interested in the game and learned more about it. I found that it has many similarities to our rugby and, as with many other games, once you are aware of the basics the rest can come in time. Certainly the shape as well as the size of the ball are almost identical to rugby. I soon learned that an American football field is 300 feet long (not counting the end zones), 160 feet wide and is marked out in lines 10 yards apart across the width of the field. The two end zones are the width of the field and 10 yards deep, along with the rugby-style goal posts at the far back. In addition, centred on the length of the field on either side are the coaching boxes and team areas. But there are major differences in terms of players between our soccer, our rugby and American Football. In soccer, a match is played by two teams with eleven players in each, one being a goalkeeper. A match may not start or continue if either team has fewer than seven players. Likewise a game of rugby is played between two teams with 15 players per team; eight players in the tight scrum and seven players called backs who are scattered all over the field. Wearing jerseys, the numbers on the player’s backs will then determine where they are located on the field. American Football is played between two teams, each one comprising an Offensive Unit, a Defensive Unit and a Special Teams Unit. Within each Unit are a defined number of players and every player has a named, designated number on their back as well as a position on the field of play and task for which they are specifically trained. In addition, they train for other positions in case of any injuries. There are only eleven players allowed from each side on the field at any one time, so one side will play from their Defensive Unit whilst the other side play from their Offensive Unit. Once it has been determined, by the toss of a coin, which side will start and play first then the other team use the Kicker from their Special Teams Unit to kick the ball from their 25-yard line as far down the field as possible. The Offensive Unit of eleven players then come onto the field and attempt to advance the ball from where it has finished, or from the 25-yard line if the ball ended up in the end zone, whilst the players in the Defensive Unit try to prevent this. There are two main ways for the Offense to advance the ball, either by running or passing. The Offense have a series of four plays, known as ‘downs’, starting with the ‘first and ten’ as it is the first down and ten yards to achieve. If the Offense advances ten or more yards within the four downs, they are then awarded a new set of four downs. However, if they can perhaps only achieve, say, five yards on that first attempt then they play again and with just five yards to go on their second attempt this is called ‘second and five’. They might then achieve a further three yards, meaning the next play is ‘third and two’, it being the third ‘down’ with just two yards to go to achieve the full ten yards. If the quarterback throws the ball downfield and it is caught by a Receiver from the Offensive Unit, the ball is then played from however far down the field the ball is caught and the Offensive player stopped by a Defensive player. It might be ten, twenty, fifty or sixty yards downfield! If the player manages to run with the ball into the end zone this is a touchdown. In a similar manner to rugby, the ultimate aim is to get the ball over the goal line into the end zone to score a touchdown, thus scoring six points. If they achieve this, the Kicker from their Special Teams Unit then attempts a Conversion, aiming to kick the ball from a fixed point 25 yards from the goal line to between the goal posts, which is similar to rugby. If this is successful, the team get an extra point. If they fail to advance ten yards within the four ‘downs’, then possession of the football is turned over to the other team from wherever the ball has finished. In most situations, if the Offense reaches their fourth down without moving the ball the required ten yards, they will ‘punt’ or kick the ball as far down the field as possible, which forces the other team to begin their drive from where the ball ends up. If however the Offense are in Field Goal range, usually 35 yards or less from the goal, then they might attempt to score a Field Goal instead of a touchdown. The Field Goal is similar to the Conversion but is attempted from the middle of the field from however far down the field the ball happens to be. If successful, a Field Goal scores three points. At all times during the game a group of officials known as the chain crew keep track of both the downs and the distance measurements. On television, a yellow line is electronically superimposed on the field to show the first down line to the viewing audience. In a typical play, the Center passes the ball backwards between their legs to the Quarterback in a process known as the Snap. Then the quarterback either hands the ball off to another player, throws the ball, or runs with it. The play ends when the player with the ball is tackled or goes out-of-bounds or a pass hits the ground without a player having caught it. A forward pass can be legally attempted only if the passer is behind the line of scrimmage (the line where each play starts) and only one forward pass can be attempted per down. As in rugby, players can also pass the ball backwards at any point during a play. A ‘down’ also ends immediately if the runner’s helmet comes off. The game is divided into four quarters of fifteen minutes each, but the difference with this game is that it is very much a series of stop and go events, with different players coming on and off the field on both sides between ‘downs’. Which actual players are on the field is determined by the Offense and Defense team coaches or the Head Coach of each side. They try to guess what game strategy, that ‘plays’ the other side will use. Another big difference with this game compared to rugby or soccer are the number of officials on the field at any one time. A big difference with this game compared to rugby or football are the number of officials on the field at any one time. So apart from the Referee, there is an Umpire, a Down Judge, a Line Judge, a Field Judge, a Side Judge and a Back Judge! These officials are all dedicated to looking out for infractions to particular rules and each official carries a weighted, bright yellow flag which they throw to the ground to signal that a foul has been called. The officials then consult with the referee who determines what penalty is to be applied. It may mean moving the ball back to where the last ‘play’ started, but a more serious penalty can be applied if appropriate, for example one player grabbing the face mask of another. In addition, a limited number of ’time-outs’ may be called by either side, like if a quarterback feels the need to discuss a change of strategy for a particular ‘play’. In the United States, most games are televised so there can also be a delay in the game whilst tv adverts are on. All this can extend a simple game of four quarter hour sessions to a good deal longer! There is much more to this game in terms of strategy, planning, watching how other teams play over the season which lasts just sixteen weeks, with thirty-two teams taking part across the U.S.A. I have found it a fascinating game and as with most things, the more I learn, the more I find there is to learn. But what is really entertaining is the enthusiasm that the commentators have on this game. I have heard and watched a few games, on television as well as attending Wembley and the spectators are kept very well informed as to how the game is progressing, there are huge screens showing the gameplay and for example, when an Offensive player moves the ball successfully on or beyond the ten yards, it is the signal for the referee to call that the play has been a success. At that point, the commentator shouts this over the loudspeakers, resulting in a “FIRST DOWN!”. Interestingly, most fans on both sides appreciate a good strategy and will applaud when one is made. I have had the privilege of going to Wembley Stadium and watching American Football games that were played between different teams, but despite the fans themselves being supporters of one team or another, more often than not they are really supporters of the game, as the games they are attending may not always be between the teams they particularly support. Most wish to see a good, healthy honest game, and almost all of the time we get exactly that. Any bad behaviour by fans mean that they are immediately expelled, whilst bad or illegal behaviour by players or even coaches on the sidelines will mean the person(s) being fined, at times expelled, but most especially the team itself being fined, often for bringing the game into disrepute. Whatever our interests, especially sports, over the years we learn all of the rules, regulations, peculiarities and terminology as well as the individuals, teams and habits associated with our chosen interests. It keeps us active and happy. As we grow older, sometimes we have to adjust, but with all of the technology available nowadays, we still have options, like watching on television!

This week, some poetry from Pam Ayres.

I have a little Sat-Nav, it sits there in my car.
A Sat-Nav is a driver’s friend, it tells you where you are.
I have a little Sat-Nav, I’ve had it all my life.
It’s better than the normal ones, my Sat-Nav is my wife.

It gives me full instructions, especially how to drive,
”It’s sixty miles an hour”, it says, “You’re doing sixty five”.
It tells me when to stop and start, and when to use the brake
And tells me that it’s never ever, safe to overtake.

It tells me when a light is red, and when it goes to green
It seems to know instinctively, just when to intervene.
It lists the vehicles just in front, and all those to the rear.
And taking this into account, it specifies my gear.

I’m sure no other driver has so helpful a device,
For when we leave and lock the car it still gives its advice.
It fills me up with counselling, each journey’s pretty fraught.
So why don’t I exchange it, and get a quieter sort?

Ah well, you see, it cleans the house, makes sure I’m properly fed.
It washes all my shirts and things, and keeps me warm in bed!
Despite all these advantages and my tendency to scoff,
I only wish that now and then, I could turn the b€££&r off!
~ Pam Ayres

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