Side-netting battlers and giant-killing tacklers: a football corpus
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular words relating to football…
The football corpus
These word clouds show terms taken from a football-focused sub-corpus of the Oxford English Corpus, which looks at the most common words used in reporting and other journalism about football. We’ve chosen to look particularly at words with the suffixes –er and –ing. We’ve removed the most common words, to turn our attention instead to the more interesting, football-specific terminology. In the images, the size of the word corresponds with its popularity in the football sub-corpus; for example, finishing is large because it is used frequently, whereas officiating, being used less often, is rather smaller.
What is the Oxford English Corpus?
A corpus is a collection of texts of written (or spoken) language presented in electronic form. It provides evidence of how language is used in real situations, which allows our dictionary editors to write accurate entries. The Oxford English Corpus ensures that we can track and record the very latest developments in real-world use of language today. By analysing the corpus and using special software, we can see words in context and find out how new words and senses are emerging, as well as spotting other trends in usage, spelling, world English, and so on.
The Oxford English Corpus is based mainly on material collected from pages on the World Wide Web. It represents all types of English, from literary novels and specialist journals to everyday newspapers and magazines and from Hansard to the language of blogs, emails, and social media. And, as English is a global language, the Oxford English Corpus contains language from all parts of the world – not only from the UK and the United States but also from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Canada, India, Singapore, and South Africa.
Verbs and nouns
Let’s look again at the word clouds. As –er is often used to convert verbs into nouns (e.g. the verb howl becomes the noun howler), most of the words in that image are nouns – with some exceptions, such as clatter, a verb which ends –er. The suffix –ing is slightly more complex. In some instances a word ending in -ing is a form of the verb (the present participle), typically used to show continuous action (‘He was playacting’).; in other instances the -ing form is being used as a noun (traditionally called a gerund) denoting action (‘It was a bad example of time-wasting’).
Drubbing, gaffer, and effing
A drubbing can be mean a physical beating or thrashing and, like a beating and a thrashing, is also used metaphorically to denote a resounding defeat in a football match. The origins of drub (and thus drubbing) aren’t entirely clear, but since early uses in English are from travellers in the Orient, it has been conjectured that drub represents the Arabic ḑaraba (i.e. ḍɑrɑba), meaning to beat, or the verbal noun ḑarb (i.e. ḍɑrb) – that is, a beating, a blow, a drub.
The noun gaffer, used in British English informally to designate a person in charge, has unexpected origins. Always used as a marker of (at least some) respect, it appears to be a contraction of godfather. This is analogous with the French compère and the German Gevatter, both of which originally meant ‘godfather’. (In contemporary German Taufpate – meaning ‘godfather’ – is far more common, but Gevatter appears in old fairy tales, poems, or stories that refer to ‘Gevatter Tod’, which is an allegory for death.)
And finally, you’ll note that neither word cloud has any expletives, but the –ing image does include the word effing. Eff is a phonetic spelling of the letter f, and is a euphemistic slang alteration of the f-word. Effing may be older than you realize – dating as far back as 1929, according to current Oxford English Dictionary (OED) research, to Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That.