Case 18: Those brutal-but-brilliant footballers

6th August 2002

Filed by: Officer Taylor

The Offence

Here's a funny thing. A lot of the time, reports on football matches (that's ``soccer matches'' for you Americans) will try to express the idea of the ball being passed between two defenders by saying that it ``bisected'' them. Here's a fairly typical example from the Guardian:

The Chelsea captain's glancing header from six yards bisected goalkeeper and Taggart and nestled into the back of the net five minutes from time.

Most amusing, since ``bisect'' means ``to cut or divide into two parts, especially two equal parts'' (AHD4). You have to feel sorry for the sliced-in-two goalkeeper and his similarly bifurcated buddy Taggart.

Here's an even better example, this one from an on-line coaching manual for so-called American Football:

The lineman will step about 6 inches into the backfield with this step in order to improve the angle for the block, at the same time the lineman will raise his elbows above his back. On the second step the lineman will attempt to bisect the defender with his left foot.

While we have no idea what a ``lineman'' is, or indeed where one might find a ``backfield'', we of the SAGP absolutely love this quote. We can't read it without seeing a mental image of the studious lineman carefully measuring the defender, estimating his volume, drawing a neat line down the middle and slicing him precisely in half - presumably using a scalpel held by that astonishing left foot. We are reminded of that scene in The Phantom Menace in which the young Obi-Wan slices Darth Maul in half.

(It's interesting to speculate on what image the author of the Americal football piece was trying to convey. We confess that we have no idea.)

The Verdict

It seems that what's going on here is that the Guardian, and many, many others, are confusing a whole thing with the members of which it is composed. It's quite possible for a well-judged pass to bisect a football defence, as in this perfectly acceptable report, also from the Guardian:

Bridges then displayed his predatory finishing skills just before half-time after Erik Bakke's measured through-ball bisected the home defence.

But that is not at all the same thing as bisecting the members of that defence.

The Sentence

We sentence the members of the media to go to their rooms and think very hard about what they've done.



*** Bonus Offence ***

Now here is a particularly astonishing variation on the theme of footballers taking the knife to each other: once again, it's our old, reliable friend the Guardian, this time reporting on a friendly match between Real Madrid and Liverpool:

Zidane's pass on the hour, dissecting Sami Hyypia and John Arne Riise, provided Javier Portillo with a second [goal].

Yes, dear readers! It was not enough for Zidane to slice Sammy and Johnny in half - he felt it necessary to ``dissect'' them - that is, to ``cut them apart, especially for anatomical study; to examine, analyze, or criticize in minute detail''. You have to feel sorry for the poor defenders. Unless, of course, the correct interpretation is that the journalist didn't know what he was talking about. Which is a possibility that we in the SAGP feel duty-bound to take very seriously.

Briefly, then, we sentence the journalist to be trisected.

Next case!

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