Surviving the jargon

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The Independent Online
LANGUAGE, as we know, develops at an alarming rate, and nowhere more so than in sport. Six months ago, for instance, a 'bung' was a piece of cork you put in the top of a glass jar. Now, of course, this humble monosyllable enjoys a whole smorgasbord of different meanings, most of which are closely related to motorway service stations and long- serving managers who like a quick nip before breakfast.

Such is progress, and new examples of this linguistic self-renewal seem to pop up virtually daily. To ignore such an important subject would be to fail in one's honoured duty as a sports writer, so here is the first in an occasional series in which I shall attempt to explain the meanings of all these sporting neologisms before some other columnist comes up with the same idea. So, in alphabetical order . . .

Active suspension - Important and interesting new technical achievement in Formula One cars. See 'anti-lock braking system'.

Anti-lock braking system - Ground-breaking innovation in grand prix engineering.

Backer, New - Enigmatic figure said by desperate journalists to be mounting a 'rescue plan' (cf.) to save a football club that, by normal rules of business, should have been shut down years ago. The new backer is usually a local businessman or sometimes a solicitor, who is immediately assumed to be a figurehead for some shadowy figure with pots of money, but usually turns out to be just a solicitor. Occasionally, the new backer comes with his own 'consortium', whose attempts to supply the required pounds 30m are ultimately foiled by the fact that they haven't got it.

Car keys - Small metal protuberances once commonly used for starting cars. Now shoved into Test match pitches on a perfect length every day before start of play.

Century - Very short period of time, possibly only a week (as used in 'Sprint of the Century', 'Goal of the Century', 'Ball of the Century' etc).

Given out - New cricketing euphemism for 'appalling umpiring decision'. When a commentator says that someone is out, then they're out. When he says that someone has been 'given out', he means that they were sawn off outrageously, only he can't say that because this is the BBC. Supersedes 'I think he was a little unlucky there, Richie'.

Head-to-head showdown - Contest between two athletes who are paid huge amounts of money to pretend that they would be competing against each other anyway even if they were doing it for free. See 'agents', 'managers' and indeed anyone else on a decent percentage.

Loyalty bonus - Huge amount of money demanded by footballer of his club when he's just about to sign for another club. (No, I don't understand this one either.)

Rescue plan - If a new backer (cf.) has a chance of saving a football club, he just gets on with it. If he doesn't, he calls a press conference and announces a 'rescue plan'. (Also used in other sports when there's no chance of anyone achieving anything, ie 'Keith Fletcher's Rescue Plan'.)

Wild card - (a) Means of entry to prestigious sporting tournament generally reserved for bad players from the host nation who can't get in by any other means. (b) Means of blackmail employed by otherwise powerless Ryder Cup captain to influence team selection (ie 'Gallacher tells Ballesteros 'Don't rely on a wild card' ').

World championship title fight - Boxing match between present champion and someone he's guaranteed to beat.