When you read these descriptions of the same incident, one good reason for preserving unique sporting terminology becomes clear. It takes much longer to explain an event when you can’t call on specific terminology.
Many football terms have been with us for a century or more. However, Panenka is a relatively new addition to the sport’s lexicon. It perfectly illustrates how unexpected events can sometimes require the invention of new terms. From time to time, a new rule is introduced or a player comes up with a novel trick for which there isn’t yet a specific word. As others will copy any new moves, these must have names.
In 1976, Czech player Antonín Panenka shocked the football world when he took a penalty in the European Championship. Instead of smashing the ball high into the roof of the net or slotting it into the corner of the goal, he waited for the goalkeeper to dive and then gently chipped the ball down the middle. This type of penalty is now almost always referred to in English as a Panenka.
Perpetuated by those in the know
Unique terms are useful because they ensure that sporting action can be described accurately and concisely.
Normal English: Wow! The Brazilian star Neymar, wrapped his kicking leg around the back of his standing leg and then crossed the ball with it!
Football English: Wow! A rabona from Neymar!
Ricardo Infante was the first exponent of the rabona. He executed the move in a game between the Argentinian teams Estudiantes de la Plata and Rosario Central in 1948. The football magazine El Gráfico then featured the player on its front cover dressed as a schoolboy with the caption “El infante que se hizo la rabona”. In Spanish, rabona means to play hooky (skive).
There’s more to sporting terminology than facilitating concise reporting. Psychologists will argue that the unique language of a sport is perpetuated because it enables those in the know to feel superior.
Sports fans enjoy the sense of being part of a special club. They like to use the language of the few rather than that of the many. Sporting language is a form of elitism.
Of course, it isn’t only football which has developed its own vocabulary. The language of golf is even more incomprehensible to a novice. In what other context would you talk about making birdies, albatrosses, eagles and condors, unless you were a bird watcher? T
ennis fans will talk about moonballs and bagels while Baseball aficionados always enjoy reviewing a Merkle’s Boner or a post-match Gatorade shower.
All languages feature unique sporting words and phrases. But English reigns supreme in one aspect of sporting terminology. Most languages boast only one word for the arbiter of a sporting event, regardless of which sport is being played. In English, there are many terms for sports officials.
Football is officiated by referees, tennis by umpires and line judges, American football by umpires, line judges, field judges and more.