Philip Smith: Oh Sir Graham, you've a lot to answer for, haven't you

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With the start of Super Rugby comes lazy commentating. Photo / Alan Gibson
With the start of Super Rugby comes lazy commentating. Photo / Alan Gibson

As Super Rugby prepares for take-off on TV, I have an urgent "resist and desist" request to all commentators.

New Zealand sports commentators are getting lazy and butchering the English language at an escalating rate - aren't they?

When I asked a question at the end of the last sentence I wasn't expecting an answer. I was merely pointing out one of several linguistic devices that have crept into the world of rugby.

Sir Graham Henry started it with a speech tic a few years ago when he suddenly decided to end most sentences with a question.

For example, if Richie McCaw had a strong game, we would hear from Sir Graham: "He's an amazing player - isn't he?" Or: "What a great game he played - didn't he?"

Sir Graham was simply telling us that his opinion was beyond question because he followed it with a rhetorical question.

He was endorsing his own words and assuming we must agree without question or riposte. Very headmaster-esque!

He was quickly followed by Wayne Smith, who slavishly started ending sentences with questions which required no answer: "He played brilliantly, didn't he?" An unnamed rugby writer who eerily channels Henry has also adopted the same habit.

Suddenly the trendy question-ending sentence spread like wild fire.

Now even John Key embraces it when embarking on some tricky policy positioning: "Oh, it's the obvious thing to do - isn't it?" Um, can we answer that? No!

And so to the latest vocal tic plaguing New Zealand sport.

Instead of holding a simple opinion, like saying, "that was offside," New Zealand commentators have started adding the superfluous "for me" - or the far more mangled - "for mine" - in front of virtually everything they say.

"For mine, that's offside." It's such a debasement of the language they should be tried by the Oxford Dictionary World Court.

"For mine" I believe started like a virus in Australian league last year. It is clearly their short form for 'for my money'. It spread quickly with Justin Marshall, who is a superb commentator and better than this, adding it to many of his comments.

Simon Doull, a standard journeyman of a cricket caller, has started adding "for mine" or "for me" to virtually everything he says. Like we need to know that the opinion is so important, it is coming chocolate-coated from "me".

Maybe the TAB can add a "for me/mine" option this Super Rugby season - so we can guess how many times it will be used in a game.

Rather, the commentators need to do some urgent verbal editing and eliminate these tics, for mine. In fact, the more I say this, the more annoying it becomes.

These days the wonderfully dry Sir Graham is on the backbenches and the All Blacks now have Steve Hansen. So far Hansen is talking in easy to understand sentences with a bit of dour humour rolled in there, including his sensational nose rubbing gag. May he continue on this course and not start agreeing with himself.

As for the others? For mine, they have all been sprung, haven't they?

Footnote: the hottest verbal tic for 2013 is calling the public "folks".

Obama started it in the 2012 US election campaign and now some New Zealand news anchors are calling us folks.

How sweet - we, the viewer, the simpleton banjo-playing, nose-picking, prairie-dwelling "folks" of New Zealand. Lose it - before John Key starts using it.


Philip Smith is executive producer of Agent Anna and co-owner of Great Southern Television - and watches too much sport.

- NZ Herald

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