Wednesday January 5, 2005
Book chronicles use of sports cliches
Author Don Powell compiled more than 1,700 phrases used by
DETROIT (AP) -- Don Powell has heard it
all before, and not necessarily in his day job as a
The lifelong sports fan's memory is crammed with
any number of sportscasters describing "Cinderella stories,"
coaches speaking of "beating ourselves" and athletes "giving 110
Flying from Texas to Detroit a year ago with
nothing to read, a bored Powell began jotting down sports
By the time his plane touched down, he had 315
of them. An obsession was born. So was a book.
Powell, president of the American Institute for
Preventive Medicine in Farmington Hills eventually accumulated
more than 4,000 sports cliches.
He winnowed the list down to 1,771 and then
self-published "Best Sports Cliches Ever!" The 192-page
paperback has been on sale since mid-September online, through
Amazon.com and in bookstores.
Powell says his interest in cliches, spoken and
written, goes back to his childhood in New York.
"Some things just captivate you," he said in a
recent telephone interview. "Going to these games, I was always
interested in these cliches that my dad or the fans around me
"I was intrigued by the fact that in just a few
words you can create something very visual."
For that reason, Powell said, cliches aren't
"It's like shorthand. It's a way of
communicating quickly," especially during real-time broadcasts
when the action is unfolding, he said.
"We complain about them, but we use them. ...
You're trying to appeal to a large audience," Powell said. "Cliches
kind of help you bridge the gap between the veteran (sports fan)
and the rookie."
Powell once played out that scenario in
"My friend and I went to a Lions game and we
talked entirely in cliches. We'd say things like 'He really got
separation on that pass,"' which means the receiver got far
enough away from his defender to make an uncontested catch.
"And people around us started interjecting,
talking in cliches. Everybody had some. It's almost like a fan
club where there's a secret handshake among sports fans."
Powell acknowledges that many cliches have gone
bad by being left out in the open too long.
Respondents to his online poll (http://www.bestsportscliches.com)
said the most overused cliche was "'We're taking them one at a
time,' followed closely by 'He's giving 110 percent.' And the
third one is, 'This is as big as it gets,"' he said.
Powell said many sports figures' reliance on
cliches is the product of "a lack of creativity ... It's like
they're imprinted in your brain."
At the same time, Powell said -- slipping into
cliche-speak of his own -- "They don't want to create fodder for
the other team's locker room.
"They try to keep things under the radar
Harry Atkins heard thousands of cliches uttered
by hundreds of athletes while working from 1979-2000 as
Michigan sports editor for The Associated Press.
"Alan Trammell comes quickly to mind," Atkins
said of the longtime Detroit shortstop who is heading into his
third season as Tigers manager.
"Because Alan is such a good guy, but also a shy
guy. He grew up with television, so that's what he heard and it
was easy for him," Atkins said. "Tram spoke in cliches
Football was a prolific source of cliche-speak,
said Atkins, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.
"In the early days most Michigan
players who were associated with (football coach) Bo (Schembechler)
would say they were 'jacked up.' They were never 'fired up.'
They were 'jacked up."'
Former Michigan State football coach George
Perles "was good for a ton of those things," Atkins said. "'One
game at a time' was huge."
Indeed, Powell's book lists more
football-related catch phrases than any other sport, and his
nominee as the most prolific cliche generator is "Monday Night
Football" analyst John Madden.
But, he adds: "You cannot describe sports
without cliches. If you banned Madden's cliches, there'd be a
lot of dead air."