Weigh Enough Already
Watching the Olympics, and financial and political channels, makes one aware of the extent to which the sports lexicon has invaded other forms of human activity. Hardly five minutes go by without hearing an expression that originated on the playing fields of man or beast.
Baseball probably started it when a home run became any successful endeavor. President Roosevelt in the 1930s referred to his batting average on getting his historic agenda passed. The other day a TV reporter referred to major league supporters of the big lie propaganda. Three strikes and you're out pertains to any politician who commits multiple mistakes. Reporters throw a curve when they ask a politician who expects a question on the immigration disaster if he is messing around with that cute new intern. When the same politician is too hungover to make a speaking date of the Kiwanis lunch, he sends his PR man to pinch hit for him. If the same politician also likes boy interns, he may be called a switch hitter.
Football is not far behind. It has one expression that has come full circle. Hail Mary, a Catholic prayer, became a synonym for a miracle pass, such as Doug Flutie's winning bomb against Miami in 1984. The term has grown wings and now is used for any long chance situation. An NBC reporter chose it to describe the odds of Republicans voting for the elections bill. Inside the 20 has come to mean any effort that is in the home stretch (itself borrowed from horse racing, as is not their first rodeo from bronco busting). A quarterback is the recognized mastermind of a business or political situation. When a Republican Senator is asked what he really thinks of Donald Trump, he punts, changing the subject to the Mexican border.
Basketball has fewer contributions to regular speech but a full court press can mean an all-out effort to register voters, and a slam dunk has multiple applications.
Which brings us to our real theme. For the first time since 1908, the U.S. did not win a single medal in rowing. Not one — not even bronze — in a dozen men’s and women's events. It is an awful downfall from the days when John B. Kelly Sr. was a national hero for winning in the 1920 Olympics, or our men's eight-oared crews (usually our best college crew) won almost every Olympics from the ’20s to the ’50s. Since the 1960s all countries have sent all-star crews. Our women had won the eight for three straight Olympics. This year both men and women finished fourth. Despite the fact that high school and college rowing has never been more popular, our national image seems in decline. It was hard even to get results this year; maybe because the media prefers covering winners.
This writer was once a coxswain, back in high school. As a freshman I stood 4’10” and weighed 75 pounds, not exactly an offensive lineman's dimensions. But I was a natural coxswain. And just as I was becoming the best in the world, or at least on the Schuylkill River, I grew a foot and gained 30 pounds and the coach kicked me out of the boat. But everyone knows coxswains are a little weird, so to raise the rowing profile, here is a weird idea: Insert some popular rowing expressions in general discourse, as with baseball and football.
One of the more obvious Is to catch a crab, which happens when an oar goes into the water at an angle, rather than squared up. The oar slices deep and sends the oarsman sharply back and brings a whole crew almost to a halt. In smaller boats it can knock a rower out of the boat. It rarely happens with elite crews, but it did turn a boat over in the recent Olympics. It has great possibilities to describe any major screwup by a politician or anybody else. Another popular phrase is open water. It means when one racing shell is more than a length ahead of a rival. Open water between the boats. At standard distances, such a lead is rarely overcome. A candidate who polls more than 55 percent would have open water over their opponent.
A Power 10 is when the coxswain calls for the crew to row especially hard for 10 strokes at a key point in the race, hoping to build a lead or narrow one down. It could be used anytime a heightened effort is required. Perhaps the best of all is weigh enough — a command that goes back to Shakespeare, meaning to stop rowing immediately. It could be used for any circumstance where an individual must cease and desist. It would be a good way to silence someone like Matt Gaetz, or a super heavyweight wrestler who goes over 500 pounds. That person would be told to weigh enough.
And with that slam dunk of a dreadful pun, it may be the right time to weigh enough.