Friday, April 25, 2008

There's no "I" in [tim]

The one professional team I root for is playing the professional team I root against. My Detroit Red Wings are playing those Colorado Avelanches. Avelanchers?

See that's a problem with non-plural team nicknames. What do we call the individuals on the team? But maybe that's a good thing. It encourages a group mentality. As Mr Sapir-Whorf proved a long time ago it's impossible to be selfish on a team that doesn't allow you to refer to yourself as a single player.

And when you say that you're playing against an avalanche you're forced to imagine that you're playing against a force that you do not have the power to stop. The best you can hope for is that you will survive by outrunning it. Language forces these thoughts on us.

Which leagues and which teams have caught on to this bit of linguistic legerdemain?

NHL 3/30
The Colorado Avalanche the Minnesota Wild and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Get this -- the Lightning have only won Lord Stanley of Preston's Cup once. Scientists say the team will have to move to another city in order to win it a second time.

NBA 3/30
Here we find 3 More. The Miami Heat the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz. Again 10%.

NFL 0/32
They're not playing along. Not a single team uses a singular or mass noun as a nickname.

CFL 0/8
The Canadian Football League doesn't have any singular or mass nouns among their current 8 teams. But they've had a singular name before: the Las Vegas Posse in 1994.

The USFL had 2 out of 19: the Chicago Blitz and the Los Angeles Express.

Arena 9/17
Arena Football is crawling with non-plurals: the Chicago Rush the Colorado Crush the Georgia Force the Grand Rapids Rampage the Kansas City Brigade the New Orleans VooDoo the Philadelphia Soul the Tampa Bay Storm and the Utah Blaze. Eight singular and one mass: 9 out of 17.

MLB 0/30
And in baseball only the Soxes come close to squeaking by as singular/mass nicknames. But the OED tells us that we have to consider sox an altered form of the plural of sock. Damn dictionaries controlling our use of the language!

MLS 9/14
In this US version of a soccer league the naming gets confusing. You have a team like Chivas USA that goes by a plural count noun that few will recognize in English. But they can also be called the goats or a few other nicknames. D.C. United follows the lead of several European teams that claim simply the unity of a region. Then you have teams from Toronto and Dallas that simply call themselves Football Clubs. There's the Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution. You've got the Columbus Crew (they named themselves with a thesaurus: Hey what's another word for team?) the Houston Dynamo the LA Galaxy, and Real Salt Lake. Or is that the Real Salt Lake? These MLS teams like using count nouns in the singular. That's risky. It lends itself to one player's arrogance getting out of hand. It'll all be over for them when that egomaniac starts proclaiming I am the Dynamo! or I am the Galaxy! Only one player will be able to do so.

WNBA 9/14
Out of the 14 teams in the WNBA 9 of them are singular or mass nicknames: the Atlanta Dream the Chicago Sky the Connecticut Sun the Detroit Shock the Indiana Fever the New York Liberty the Minnesota Lynx the Phoenix Mercury and the Seattle Storm. The Phoenix Mercurys wouldn't do it as a name. It sounds like a garage full of not very sporty cars.

And doing a quick run through NCAA teams we find the North Carolina State Wolfpack the Marshall Thundering Herd the Tulane Green Wave the Tulsa Golden Hurricane the Stanford Cardinal the Alabama Crimson Tide the North Texas Mean Green and the Nevada Wolf Pack. The herd and the wolf packs are collective nouns so the players can call themselves wolves or buffalo(es).

Where is all this heading?

Well I'm looking forward to following this second round of the playoffs because even tho an avalanche is often overwhelming I like my Red Wings' chances of playing well against six flakes at a time.

[correction: in the original piece I reported that 3 out of 30 is 30% when in fact 3 out of 30 is not 30%]


  1. The goats? Shades of Charlie Brown!

    The Lynx is wrong. Or if that sounds harsh, it's weird. Very MLS-sounding.

    Go Red Wings!

  2. I see a pattern forming: the less people care about the sport, and hence might recognize an individual player on the street, the more the teams use mass-noun names. A testament to their facelessness?

    And remember that the soxes were both originally stockings.

  3. I think we should just make up terms for individual members of teams with mass or singular names. For instance:

    A member of the Avalanche is a Falling Rock.
    A member of the Wild is a Wild Thing.
    A member of the Lightning is a Bolt.
    A member of the Heat is a Degree.
    A member of the Magic is a Spell.
    A member of the Jazz is a Note. (A group of three to five of 'em is a Chord.)

    And so on.

  4. And a member of the Stanford Cardinal [sic] would be ... what?

    Can't wait for them to play the Caltech Ordinal. In prime time.


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