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.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 11 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: mrb - Feb. 15, 2006 11:24 PM ET USA

    It used to be that Catholic educational institutions attempted to teach civility as well as subject matter. Making pejorative comments about one's opponent is not exactly gentlemanly, nor even very original. Gonzaga's authorities should have opposed the chants on those grounds, not on whether it offended people's sensibilities. Surely a Jesuit institution can come up with a good chant, possibly in Latin, with a positive tone???

  • Posted by: - Feb. 15, 2006 1:57 PM ET USA

    Its the straw that broke the back of the Gonzaga Administration.

  • Posted by: sparch - Feb. 15, 2006 9:56 AM ET USA

    My question for the university is, is it offensive because the spectators were calling the players a derogatory name (gay), or is it because it is offensive to use the gay label as derogatory? Some questions I do not want to know the answer to.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 15, 2006 8:23 AM ET USA

    Wait...isn't that movie critically acclaimed? Maybe it's not a pejorative cheer at all. Where’s the fine Jesuit open mind here? How about this very popular cheer: “Interception, contraception, stop that ball!” This has been chanted for years at many Jesuit college B-Ball games…any problems with this one guys?

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Feb. 14, 2006 1:41 PM ET USA

    Uncle Di St. Mary's out rebounded the Zags 33-29 and had more offensive rebounds 11-8. Never mind that one boxes out to get defensive rebounds and crash the boards to get offensive rebounds. So it was Batista who blocked out to get 10 defensive boards. While the man guarding him did a pretty good job holding him to 1 offensive board. It was probably Mark Few the Zag's coach that was pointing out the brokeback syndrome during the halftime chalk talk.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Feb. 14, 2006 1:29 PM ET USA

    Just to point out another unrelated story. The Bishop of Añatuya, Argentina Mons. Adolfo Uriona was accused of sexual assult. A few weeks latter was declared innocent. The accusation came from a woman who was seated next to him on the overnight bus to Buenos Aires. That's right the overnight bus. Quick, name one of our bishops that travels by grayhound.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 14, 2006 12:00 PM ET USA

    On Saturday, Feb 11, I attended a basketball game at the United States Air Force Academy field house between the Air Force Falcons and the Wyoming Cowboys. The Air Force cadets in attendance, sitting as a group in close proximity to the Wyoming bench, repeatedly chanted, “Brokeback Cowboys.” It was funny! I loved it! And Air Force won the game. The ticket price? $14 -- but the entertainment was priceless!

  • Posted by: parochus - Feb. 14, 2006 10:00 AM ET USA

    And the last paragraph of the article reveals how far the perception of Jesuit "principles" has come since Ignatius wrote the Second Exercise, to wit: "Imagine yourself as a homosexual individual in the midst of your peers, classmates and friends during this 'Brokeback Mountain' cheer," Monroe wrote. "I simply do not understand how a student body claiming to live by Jesuit principles of acceptance and respect for all can allow an incident like this to happen and remain silent."

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Feb. 14, 2006 9:34 AM ET USA

    That's great. The things that one learns reading CWN.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 14, 2006 9:32 AM ET USA

    Gonzaga is one of the better mainstream Catholic schools. While much of the faculty fits the typical academic-liberal mold, the student body is generally much more conservative. Hence the tension between the Kennel Club and the PC cops on campus. Even though it is Jesuitl, I would not write the place off entirely. It is a far cry from USF. And by the way . . . Go Zags!!!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 14, 2006 8:37 AM ET USA

    Just another reason why I won't send any of my kids to a mainstream Catholic University. They are more worried about offending homosexuals than upholding the traditions of the church which they seem to undermine with every opportunity they get. Let's sponsor The Vagina Monologues but censor students getting a little rowdy at a basketball game. I've heard that Wake Forest, I believe a Baptist school, is drawing a large number of Catholics because it's more Catholic than schools like Gonzaga.