Nick forwarded the above story to me yesterday. I read the headline and was shocked—SHOCKED. Joe Torre was trying to sabotage Andruw Jones! Then I read the article. Apparently, Torre was not, in fact, trying to derail his centerfielder. He was trying to get him “on track,” not “untracked.” After some anal bitching between Nick and myself, Nick turned up several more examples—it appeared that this word was being misused all over the world of sports journalism! (So why am I writing about it and not Nick? Nick said it was too anal, even for him. I have no such compunctions.) Behold:
“With Bedard back, McLaren can concentrate on getting the offense untracked.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
“Ortiz, Sox can’t get untracked.” (Worcester Telegram)
“It won’t matter what the pitcher’s name is when Ortiz gets untracked.” (Hartford Courant)
“The hitters seemed to get untracked a bit in the past week, so perhaps it’s now Sabathia’s turn to get it all together against the Royals.” (MLB.com)
Is the American rail industry in such dire straits (note: not dire ‘straights’) that we’ve lost our ability to use the simple railroad metaphor, “get back on track”? As with many misused turns of phrase (note: not ‘terms’ of phrase), there’s some confusion about what “untracked” actually means. These sportswriters, if they’re thinking at all, seem to be mishearing “on track,” thinking it’s “untracked,” and confusing being on a track with being “stuck in a rut.” Thus, to get “untracked,” to them, is a good thing. (For similar mistakes, see: “Play it by year;” “For all intensive purposes;” “A mute point;” “A tough road to hoe;” “Sewing his wild oaks;” and “Tow the line.” You play something by “ear.” You don’t have “intensive” purposes, but intents AND purposes. It’s a moot point, not a mute one. If you’re hoeing a road, no wonder it’s so tough—trying hoeing that “row” instead. Likewise, it’s a lot harder to sew wild oaks than sow wild oats. And if you’re towing the line, what’s the line and where are you taking it? You might be better off “toeing” it.) But as the Language Log notes, the only entry in the OED for “untracked” is “not furnished with a track or path” and “not tracked or traced.” But I don’t think these writers mean that once Big Papi eludes his trackers, he’ll start hitting again.
The worst part is, the editors of these publications are either unaware of the problem or, where the term appears in a headline, even perpetuating it. (Kudos to Bob Costas’ producer, who seems to have shouted a correction into his earpiece after he slipped up in this clip.)
You know, lives aren’t at stake here. This is sports journalism. Maybe to some folks, that excuses such sloppiness. But I say, if it’s not well-written, what’s the point? Sports writing is like the dessert of the journalistic meal. It’s just empty calories, so if it doesn’t taste good, why eat it?