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Above and beyond the realm of reality... literally; As our footballing fraternity continues to mince the English language, Chris Game ponders why our politicians are following suit and may be a little too enthusiastic in showing support for various causes.

One of the best football websites boasts the name of Twohundredpercent.

Its founders say the name has nothing to do with football, but I've never believed it. After all, sports people generally, and footballers especially, are notorious torturers of the English language, and the mathematically impossible percentage is a classic example.

I was surprised, then, that this website failed to comment on the most cynical way in which Wayne Rooney chose to short-change Manchester United. Not the pounds 200,000 a week, which in the city of Manchester seems to constitute a bargain, but Wayne's commitment to understandably disgruntled fans.

He thought it possible that "some fans may not take to me again very quickly. But I will give everything. I will give 100 per cent and try to build that relationship back."

It wasn't quite as provocative as the Chicago Bulls basketball player Joakim Noah who, on signing a $60 million contract earlier this month, assured fans that "I'm going to stay hungry and give 110 per cent."

But Rooney's mere 100 per cent also comes close to adding insult to rip-off.

For Rooney is no ordinary footballer, as was frequently observed in speculations about how he might adapt to the sophistications of La Liga, were he to transfer to Real Madrid. He plays "box to box, gives 110 per cent, is like a dog with a bone when chasing the ball".

I've always been intrigued by such assertions.

How come these performers don't spontaneously explode when they crash the 100 per cent barrier - like Monty Python's Mr Creosote when confronted with the additional one per cent of John Cleese's "wafer-thin mint"? Instead, it appears that all the extra 10 per cents add up and contribute to a player's recuperative abilities and selfassurance, as we saw when there were injury doubts over both Rooney and Michael Owen prior to the 2006 World Cup.

Happily, manager Sven-Goran Eriksson allayed our concerns, at least until his teams took the field - "I am confident. I shouldn't be surprised if Michael is 110 per cent against Paraguay."

As for Wayne - "I'm confident he will take part, and he is 300 per cent confident he will play." 300 per cent confidence in 2006, 100 per cent effort in 2010 - that's deflationary depression for you.

Regrettable as it is when our sporting heroes seem unable to engage brain before opening mouth, it is tough to mock them when those whose jobs supposedly involve talking sense also find it beyond them.

Tony Blair was a serial offender - unforgivably for someone whose three priorities were "education, education, education".

It was usually only the odd one per cent, but here just as meaningless as 10 or 200.

The most controversial example was surely the "101 per cent support" he gave to the police raid on a house in east London in June 2006, in which a man ended up being shot.

But the habit went back to at least 1995, when, as opposition leader, Blair confirmed to Parliament his "101 per cent support" for the proposal of then shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to lower the starting rate of income tax to 10p.

The Scots-born, numerically literate Brown would surely himself never inflate and degrade the language in this kind of Blair-speak, and, given what we now know about the personal relations between the two men, it is pleasing to picture him hectoring Blair, again in John Cleese/Monty Python style.

"Tony, 100 per cent is everything, the maximum, the grand total, the whole ball of wax, the works, the full monty, the whole shooting match, the whole kit and caboodle, the percentage than which there can be no higher. What part of it can't you grasp?" To William Hague, however - he who claimed to drink 14 pints a day in his youth - 101 per cent was for wimps. As Conservative leader in 2000, he expressed "150 per cent confidence" in Ann Widdecombe. No, not for her harness or her tango, but as a potentially "great crimefighting Home Secretary" - having just buried her zero tolerance plan for pounds 100 fixed penalty fines for cannabis users.

More recently, you may recall Shahid Malik, Labour junior justice minister, attempting to explain away his alleged parliamentary expenses offence by an offence to the English language. He refused to apologise for his second-home allowance of pounds 67,000 over three years, which had been claimed "one million per cent by the book".

Earlier this year, there was an even more bizarre case. The American columnist Arianna Huffington made headlines with her accusation that the BP's Gulf of Mexico oil leak was "absolutely 1,000 per cent Bush-Cheney's fault". Her reasoning, as I suppose you have to call it, was that the regulatory system that should have prevented the leak had been established by the previous Presidential administration.

Which reminds me, as we return to football, of sports commentators' limitless ability to articulate the four-syllable "literally", but not the five-syllable "figuratively" - as in Ian Botham's "for too long batsmen have been getting away with murder, literally" - something I trust he reported to our former Justice Minister.

Football pundit Jamie Redknapp is an almost weekly culprit. In his world some players literally don't have left feet. They literally turn on sixpences, or into greyhounds.

Balls literally explode off their feet, and they pass to each other literally on plates.

There have been, though, more eminent offenders. Scott Fitzgerald at one point has The Great Gatsby literally glowing, and in Ulysses James Joyce has a piece of Mozart music literally knocking everything else into a cocked hat.

As for Rooney, if only he had realised it, he could have legitimately given his fans at least an extra one per cent. At an airport bookstall over the summer, I discovered a book, Winning With People, which explained negotiators' 101 per cent principle.

You find one per cent to agree on, then give that one per cent 100 per cent of your effort.

In this case, we agree that Manchester United pays me shedloads of moolah, and I'll run around like a dog with a bone. 101 per cent!

Chris Game Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Birmingham


Tony Blair was one of the many politicians in the habit of offering a 101 per cent support for colleagues or policies. Rooney, on the other hand, can only give 100 per cent
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 28, 2010
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