EducationPedagogyPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: The Hockey – Football – Grammar connection

If you are living under a rock you may not know that the FIFA World Cup is taking place in Brazil, but for many people in the world it is something that has dominated their lives for the past few weeks.  I must admit that I was not a football fan (soccer to us yanks) until a very curious thing happened to me.

In order to fully understand this curiosity you must understand a little bit about how I grew up.  I was born in Philadelphia in 1974 the year the Flyer’s hockey team A.K.A. the Broad Street Bullies won the Stanley Cup.  My entire youth and teen age years were filled with hockey.  There was no one I knew who did not have a flyers jacket and even though I tried to flash my nerd card and avoid it I was sucked in.  There was no choice. I was a Northeast Philly girl and Northeast Philly girls loved hockey.  So if I wanted to spend any time with my friends in the winter I had to learn a great deal about the game and while I do not pretend to be the biggest hockey fan I can hold my own.

Back to the present

During this World Cup I was out with a group of friends watching the game and it dawned on me… soccer is slow hockey.  It was a revelation.  All those years of trying to follow the puck and learning the rules of the game have led me to this point.  The game just clicked into a well prepared spot in my brain labeled “games like hockey”. The patterns of play and many of the rules are very similar and soon I was yelling with the best of them – “off sides” “high stick kick” (it rhymes so no one noticed the slip).  I was amazed at how quickly my brain made the leap.

It brought to my mind Apostrophobia’s series of pop quizzes that center around the concepts of core courses from  their cost and benefits   to using those courses to learning how to learn to taking a look at what precisely a bachelor’s degree should entail.  For me my core courses in my undergraduate program were like hockey.  They gave me a foundation of knowledge that I could then use to more easily understand later knowledge even if to the outside observer there is no direct connection.  Just like I could plug soccer into my knowledge of hockey I could use knowledge of philosophy, history and literature to create analogies to more easily understand the science that was my main focus.

But this Pop Quiz is not about core courses or a philosophical discussion about the nature of how we learn.

This post is about soccer commentators.

It is a weird quirk of the ear that so many pieces of information fly by without conscious thought, but the second something weird happens our brain pauses. It says – What was that?  Did you hear that? Germany are going to the finals?  Did he just say that?

This is what happened to me yesterday as I was watching the end of the Germany vs. Brazil game.  I had heard it before, but I just filed it away as “it must be a non-native English speaker”.  But then I kept hearing it over and over again, and wait … did that guy have a British accent?

It is “Germany is going to the finals” people!  This is ‘murica we treat our collective nouns as singular!

But apparently it is not so simple.

I checked out Grammar Girl and a few other sites and low and behold American English and British English treat collective nouns differently.  Where we say “the team is winning”, the Brits say “the team are winning”, which is completely wrong. (I say in jest)

The funny thing is that we in America are not consistent ourselves.  Just read these examples and tell me which sounds more correct?

My family is farmers.   My family are farmers.

The flock is moving.  The flock are moving.

Both family and flock are collective nouns, but to me it and my word processor grammar check it is “family are” and “flock is”. We don’t follow the same rule for each.

And don’t get me started on the whole “data is” vs. “data are”

And did you see what I just did earlier?  I put the comma on the outside of the quotation mark because the comma is not part of the thing I am trying to quote.  A friend who is a copy editor told me that that was completely wrong, but it makes total sense to me so screw it.

So what is a person to do with our fickle mistress named English grammar?  When I proof read and grade papers I tell my students that there are some grammar rules that are up for debate.  Not all of them just the ones on the periphery.  It is like a scientific theory.  The core foundation is strong.  For example “the cat is” and “the cats are” will never be debated, but the pack?  That is up for debate.  So I say pick a rule and be consistent.  If you spell it color, never spell it colour. If you say “data is” always say “data is”, never switch back and forth.  It tells the reader that at least you thought about it and made a conscious decision.

So how about you?  How do you tell your students to deal with the tricky nitty-gritty of English grammar?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

Featured Image the emblem for the Philadelphia Flyers 

Post was edited a few minutes after originally posted for what?  Grammar of course.

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

1 Comment

  1. July 10, 2014 at 4:01 pm —

    I agree with you on the comma outside the quotes if it is not part of the quoted phrase. I do rather wish there was more consistency in how people use ellipses in quotations as well, since sometimes … means that you have left out a section, and sometimes […] does that job. I prefer […] because that is less likely to be in the original text.

    Also, a humorous anecdote about my own learning about sports: I was first introduced to hockey as a 2 year old at Princeton. At age 4, my dad took my to my first baseball game, and I was apparently very quiet for much of the game, until my dad encouraged me to cheer, at which time I blurted out “Go! Go! Skate! Skate!”

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