Saturday, September 16, 2006

...and a bogey used to be even par.

This post is mostly celebratory of Michigan's victory over Notre Dame.

Callooh Callay.

As an avid (and awful) golfer I always flinch when I hear a weak performance described as "sub-par." Isn't that good? The word is heavily associated with golf but not so much that it's a standard we hope to fall below unless we're counting strokes. Of course the Modified Stableford system (as employed every year by The International tournament at Castle Pines in Colorado) flips that around and and tinkers with it making the higher number the better - but it's not usually called "par" it's called a score.

So above-par below-par sub-par under-par less-than-par more-than-par all focus on par as a vertical target. And we tend to see "better" as "higher" and "worse" as "lower." So would a sub-par performance in golf result in a score above par? Fine.

After Michigan's victory over Notre Dame, commentator Tom Hammond said of Brady Quinn's performance for the Irish that "he was just off par." Because par is only average it isn't enough to expect that "off par" indicates a bad performance. Off par could just as easily be better than par.

But these sportscasters are wont to shank an expression whenever they speak.


  1. "wont to shank an expression..."

    Very nice.

    Next time someone asks me what my handicap is, I'm going to say, "Well, it's off par," and hope that he's not a linguist. There's a treat for you over at A Voyage Thither.

  2. "Bogey" was the original term for average golf performance. In fact, until early in the 20th century, both "par" and "bogey" were golfing synonyms. I believe that "par" comes from the stock market and means neither gain or loss.

    Thus, for no good reason, one might state that when the Merrimac fought the Monitor it was a bogey sub par.

  3. Excellent Alex. But you're right -- I can think of no good reason to say that. Ha

    I think the early use of 'bogey' in golf also included the occasional description of a scratch (or par) golfer as a "Colonel Bogey."


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