Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Get on the front foot

Better than Shakespeare
 As a Scottish person, English is Fantasy Bob's second language.  Nevertheless he is greatly fond of the language of Shakespeare, Byron and Ian Botham.  It is of course an open question which one of these was the greatest all rounder.

But he notices the siren voices of despair are all around.   English is currently the second most spoken language in the world.  Mandarin Chinese is first, but, according to those anorak wearers who know about these things, English is likely to be overtaken by Arabic and the related languages of Urdu and Hindi by 2050.  Other voices wonder whether textspeak is killing the English language or whether this is a welcome and further demonstration of its infinite flexibility.

Fantasy Bob accepts that these developments will have to run their course.  But what is of greater concern to him is the sad and shocking decline of the use of cricketing terms in official communications.

When FB began his working career, internal memos and the public press bristled with cricketing terms. 

Comments or responses were requested before close of play or by stumps.

You tried not to have to bat on a sticky wicket, but it could happen.  Difficult questions were to be faced with a straight bat, or played with soft hands.  You strove to get on the front foot to present your case and feared when circumstances or your weak position forced you onto the back foot.  A tricky issue could make you stay in your crease.  If caution was required, you were told to sit on the splice.

Meetings would give the opportunity to bowl a few short deliveries to probe the case being made.  Alternatively you might go to a meeting expecting fast bowling, but be undone by a googly.  You might even be yorked.  A rash or ill considered answer would be described as flashing outside off stump.  A colleague could undo careful preparation by playing across the line.

Easy questions or fragile positions were bad balls, dollies and were hooked for six or dispatched to the ropes.  Asserting yourself in argument would be achieved by a firm push into the covers.  But you could  have a colleague fielding in the deep or sweeping the boundary - making sure no errors or inaccuracies damaged your position.

These terms were in every day use and many more too.  But sadly in this dumbed-down tricked-up 20-20 dominated textspeaking world, the language has abandoned this rich heritage.  FB has not seen a cricketing term in official correspondence for many a year.  He struggles to explain why this should be.  Colleagues have suggested to him that they don't know what these terms mean.  A tragic excuse and a further indictment of the educational system.

Things have got to such a pathetic state that FB himself has got out of the habit of enriching his working communications with these terms.  He has failed to carry his bat.  But the fightback starts now.  It may be too late, the run rate may already have risen too far, but he is confident that all his 3 readers will join him in this vital campaign to save the English language.  Get on the front foot now.


  1. Alas, FB himself sowed the seeds of this decline, long ago. I found him in his office one day with his head in his hands - in despair, I thought, but actually he had a tiny TV under his desk showing an England test match (so maybe he was in despair after all). Thus aware of his love of cricket and seeking to please, I included a mention of "being on the back foot" in something I wrote for him. He scored it out, saying that a metaphorical ball of the kind we were dealing with was better played on the front foot. Out first ball, a blow to my metaphorical batting average.

  2. Ah yes. FB mistily remembers this fine young batsman - one of the many promising juniors to have proceeded through his team and on to greater things. Many have pointed out to FB that it is both his strength and weakness to want to get on the front foot no matter what the bowling. FB is sure you observed this and made the appropriate adjustments in your game.