By Tony Attwood
For some people an examination of the way language is used in reporting football is a matter of supreme tedium. I know this cos I get lots of emails telling me so.
But I stay with the topic because I do completely believe that anyone who wants to manipulate thought and opinion does it through their use of language. Language is never neutral. Rather language is a weapon. Sometimes an overt weapon, sometimes one that is hidden.
However language does have its values, as when it can give us the odd laugh as in
Surely these 2 Arsenal stars risk being solid this summer (Transfer Tavern)
And I wouldn’t normally have bother to mention it after I had had my little giggle, but I did click on the article and found that under the phrase about Arsenal solidity I was told, “With that in mind, our landlord takes a closer look at what TWO players this summer face the Gunners axe…”
For what it is worth the landlord of the mythical pub says the stars who need to go are Cech and Welbeck.
If anyone wanted to talk that could be a talking point, except that if one looks further into the muddied waters on which the Tavern’s foundations wobble we find that this article is almost completely repeated elsewhere on the site but for Newcastle wherein we are told “If certain players don’t pull their socks up in the final hurdles of the campaign, then our landlord believes they could be move on. Here he takes a look at TWO, in particular, that might not make the cut…
So it goes on, and by the time they get to Chelsea the poor old landlord is getting a bit tired and is reduced to telling us that “Bakayoko has become something of a liability in recent weeks…”
The point is that this is cut and paste journalism is now taken to an extreme. Invent a story for one club and replicate it through a few more and if you get bored, call each one a “talking point”.
With this particular website it turns out that is just the start, because lurking in these murky backwaters we have
- Les Reed made a huge transfer mistake not bringing these 2 stars to …
- These 2 Chelsea players need to improve or risk being sold in six …
- If Pellegrino starts these 2 Southampton players tonight, Brighton will …
- Surely these 2 Chelsea stars risk being sold this summer …
- If Mourinho persists with these 2 flops, Tottenham will batter…
This turns the talking point into a cement mixer. Throw the words in instead of the limestone and out it comes at the other end, binding the blog together in a way that makes us forget that it actually contains nothing but binding. Do it enough across enough sites and its becomes akin to brainwashing, stopping all serious debate and reducing everything to goo.
Of course other sites and newspapers are not always so crass and obvious, but even so they do use shorthand techniques. Which brings us back to the phrase “talking point,” seen on almost every website almost everyday.
Indeed it is one of those phrases that one hears so often the temptation is not to think what it means, but just accept it. But check the dictionaries and three separate definitions emerge. It can be
- A fact or feature that aids or supports one side, as in an argument or competition
- A subject of discussion. A talking point is an interesting subject for discussion or argument.
Now this gets confusing because journalists deliberately mix up the two meanings, so the reader thinks he or she is looking at a piece which an exploration of a subject of discussion but actually is pushing one side of the argument. (Or in the case of Football Tavern just using a computer to machine out variable sentences using the same basic format.)
But let’s take another example. The article “Carabao Cup final – talking points” on the BT Sport website is clearly using the meaning of the phrase as a “subject of discussion”. Unfortunately although the piece was published long after Manchester City’s defeat to Wigan it seems to focus on bland repetition to the extent that no one can rouse themselves enough to correct the mistakes. Take for example
Whilst Guardiola’s revolution at the Etihad Stadium could yield as many as four trophies, his first season ended empty-handed.
It is the sort of error even I couldn’t make, and I tend to hold the all-time mistakes championship title, largely because when it comes to writing Untold, I don’t have a proof reader.
Likewise the phrase “Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has played only twice since joining from Borussia Dortmund on transfer deadline day,” can hardly be construed as a talking point in either of that phrases guises. It is the bland becoming ever more bland until it disappears down a bland hole (a journalistic equivalent of what happens when a star contracts on itself).
The fact is that “talking point” like so many phrases that turn up on football blogs and websites is just now part of the machine code – a phrase thrown in when nothing else springs to mind.
And there is a point in this complaint, because the further and faster downhill football commentary slides with its total lack of interest, lack of investigation and love of unsupported claims, the worse we are served, and the easier it is for clubs and authorities in football to get away with anything they want to. We are not well served by this awful kind of journalism.
Opinion is fine but there needs to be information as well, because without information on which to base opinion we have nothing. Indeed that was really the point of my piece yesterday evening: What do you know about Henry Norris? And how do you know it’s true?
Talking points would be good if that is what the media gave us. But using the phrase “talking point” to cover utter blandness and repetition in the end gives us nothing but pap. As football fans we deserve better.
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