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Fighting talk.

Random House, $29.99

I learnt a new word from Bob Jones's erudite book on the language of boxing-fistic. Yes, it exists and if it didn't, the language of boxing would require it to exist. A forty page introduction warms us up before we step into the ring, only to come out fighting, draw first blood, aim no low blows, swing a king-hit, aim for a knockout blow with a Sunday punch. And that's just for openers.

With the aid of the Economist and many other sources, Jones charts the origins of numerous boxing phrases. No doubt it was a voyage of historic discovery for Jones; the more so, for the lay reader. I had no idea that the normally taciturn Joe Louis coined the memorable sentence, "He can run but he can't hide." Billy Conn, a light heavyweight, made the mistake of challenging Louis a second time only to be knocked out a second time. Contrary to the impression given in some films, throwing a fight or taking a dive is a rare event and the majority of contests are honest bouts. However, Jones informs us that they were sometimes fixed during 1900-1920 in the United States, and in ancient Greek times.

Here is Jones at his historic best: "The expression 'a low blow' was first recorded in a non-boxing context in 1950. However, as far back as the 1[] century, a similar term was recorded in France when a swordsman, the Comte de Jarnac, slashed the legs of his opponent in the course of duel. Though the action was successful and the Count won, it was considered unsporting and the term un coup de Jarnac came into being, to describe a low blow.

Other things I learnt from this mini encyclopaedia-bare knuckle fighting reigned from the late 17th century to 1890 when gloves were introduced; that a battle royal was a bare knuckle fight between several blindfolded black slaves and was only banned as recently as 1911; that when knocked down most boxers recover almost immediately; and that the innocent term "toddler" derived from the fact that in the eighteenth century when fights were illegal, those who walked to them were referred to as "foot toddlers"; the term was subsequently shortened to toddlers; the phrase Great White Hope was coined by famous writer Jack London in regard to the hope that some European boxer would take the title off Jack Johnson. Alas, the Truth newspaper headlined Johnson's victory as "The Conquering Coon". In America's deep south, many black men were actually lynched when Johnson won over Jim Jeffries.

I'd like to quote an entry at length to give potential readers an idea of the kind of sport they're in for: "In October 1997, the British newspaper, The Mail, in a no punches pulled article, reported a battle of words between Manchester University's joyless Irish Catholic, Marxist Professor of Cultural Theory, Terry Eagleton, and the university's Professor of Creative Writing, novelist Martin Amis:

Insults have continued to fly between the two heavyweights-though if imaginative use of language were the test then Martin Amis would undoubtedly be ahead on points. 'Ideological relic,' he cried. 'Slovenly!' 'A disgrace to the profession!' 'Deluded flailer and stirrer', and from Eagleton. 'son of a racist, drink-sodden, reviler of women, homophobic. Anti-Semitic boor, (a reference to Martin Amis's father, the novelist Kingsley Amis). Sounds like the opponents won't go the full fifteen rounds at this rate.

What is refreshing about this book is Jones' obvious enthusiasm for the material and the detail of the research. Hardly surprising, as Jones is a boxer himself and has managed boxers. And is a keen reader. The real McCoy!

By Bob Jones
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Title Annotation:Knockout blows
Author:Jones, Bob
Publication:Investigate HIS
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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