Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

bad enough

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 14, 2006

Spokane's Jesuit university is displaying a spirit of lexical innovation in the basketball arena that some faculty have deemed "inappropriate," according to this AP story:

Fans of No. 5 Gonzaga have been asked to stop yelling "Brokeback Mountain" at opposing players. The reference to the recent movie about homosexual cowboys was chanted by some fans during Monday's game against Saint Mary's, and is apparently intended to suggest an opposing player is gay.

The chants were the subject of several classroom discussions over the past week, and the faculty advisers for the Kennel Club booster group urged students this week to avoid "inappropriate chants" during the Bulldogs' Saturday game against Stanford, which was nationally televised on ESPN.

"We implore the students of the Kennel Club to show the nation this weekend what makes Gonzaga different," Kennel Club advisers David Lindsay and Aaron Hill wrote in a letter in the student newspaper, the Bulletin. "We challenge the students of the Kennel Club to exhibit the class, the creativeness and the competitive drive that has become a foundation of this great university."

"We implore the students of the Kennel Club to show the nation this weekend what makes Gonzaga different." High among such differences is the number of Gonzaga basketball fans that are students of historical linguistics. For in employing "brokeback" as a term of general contempt they are hearkening back to semantic connections as ancient as the language itself. Indeed, the origin of the adjective "bad," as given by its etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary, is semantically indistinguishable from the Kennel Club's new lexeme:

bad-de (2 syllables) the Middle English reflex of Old English baeddel, 'man of both genders, hermaphrodite', doubtless like Greek androgynos, and the derivative baedling, 'effeminate fellow, womanish man, malakos,' applied contemptuously, assuming a later adjectival use.

The same evaluative intuition continually resurfaces in English, the pressures of etiquette notwithstanding. When an Australian says "The gearbox on my Rover is buggered," he too, knowingly or not, exactly replicates the chain of semantic development that his linguistic ancestors constructed in the word "bad." That "bad" in modern English has lost its earliest connotations so as to become the language's most general term of disapproval is an accident of history; lexical change is spectacularly unpredictable. The Kennel Club's coinage follows the same path, as its faculty advisers indicate: intending to come up with an insult, it succeeded. And Gonzaga's gay rights group clubbed itself with the same boomerang by conceding what it was at pains to deny. In terms of precision of word usage, Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight would concur with the Oxford English Dictionary that the Kennel Club was on target: to fail to block-out in the offensive lane is to be (contextually) womanish, is to be brokeback, is to be bad. When you consider that St. Mary's allowed Gonzaga's J.P. Batista to pull down 10 defensive rebounds in a 123-point game, you understand that the "brokeback" taunt -- lexically speaking -- was anything but inappropriate. To say that "brokeback" was lexically accurate is not to say it was gracious. Athletic spectators, especially those supporting Catholic institutions, should realize that it's in poor taste to call a bad performance bad, especially when that bad performance belongs to one's opponents. The Kennel Club does not deserve congratulation. If their sportmanship is spotty, however, their philology is flawless.

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