I’m Blaming Trump for This, Too

Ordinarily I’m not a language snob. Does it truly matter if people incorrectly refer to concrete as “cement,” or say “fortuitous” when what they mean is “serendipitous,” or use “enormity” as a synonym for “immensity,” or complain about their “arteriosclerosis” when what they actually have is atherosclerosis (unless it’s the other way around)? Life is too short for brooding about the vocabularies of strangers.

And yet.

Surely you, too, have noticed that at least half the people in America unashamedly use golf as a verb: Do you golf? My brother-in-law golfs. Did you ever see Tiger Woods golf? My wife and I golfed on our honeymoon. I’m thinking of teaching my cat to golf.

The problem has been exacerbated by having a president who, even by presidential standards, spends a remarkable amount of time playing golf. When reporters who aren’t sportswriters report on his weekend activities, they say that he “golfs.”

People who use that word in that way are almost always non-players or neophytes. It’s your great-aunt, not Jordan Spieth, who asks you if you “golfed” over the weekend. The pro at your club doesn’t “golf.” The other members of your foursome don’t “golf.” And Ben Hogan never “golfed” in his life.

This linguistic form is unique to our game, incidentally. Nobody tennises, or baseballs, or billiardses, or soccers. The people who use golf as a verb could cite the dictionary in their defense, but the dictionary is not enough. Using golf as a verb is like using sex as a verb (a usage permissible only for people who hold certain unglamorous jobs in the poultry industry). Using golf as a verb demeans golf.

I don’t mind golfer (although a few purists insist on player). I can even stand an occasional golfing. But the entire conjugation of to golf makes me want to grab a four-iron and golf somebody in the head with it.

While we’re on the subject of golf-related annoyances, let’s spend a moment on ball washers. Beginning players are always easy to spot: They keep their tees in wrist bandoliers, and they can’t pass a ball washer without using it. You hear them pumping as you tee up your first drive of the morning; you hear them pumping as you consider your final putt of the afternoon. These new golfers need to be told that ball washers serve a decorative function only, and are never to be used. Real golfers clean their balls by spitting on them and rubbing them on their thigh, making a permanent stain near the pocket, and identifying them as players, not as people who golf.

7 thoughts on “I’m Blaming Trump for This, Too

  1. Ball washers should be avoided. Most contain malodorous fluids with yet-unidentified, virulent micro-organisms which, if ingested on the next green after one lick’s one’s ball (my wife admonishes me against doing this!) may result in biliousness, aphasia, flatulence, and the agonizing inability to hit fewer than three putts on any putting green thereafter.

  2. Bowling. Curling. Fencing. I think the question is if golfing means swinging, chipping, putting, etc. baseball involves pitching, hitting, fielding. The fundamental question is still if it is a verb or not. In the sport of bowling you bowl. Maybe a sport is a verb if you only do that one action during the activity?

    If golf is not a verb, we are left with playing golf, which makes the sport seem more like a game and thus less likely to get support from non-golfing spouses as a valid way to spend 2-6 hours.

    One thing we all agree on is we need more David Owen blog posts!

  3. It’s irritatingly humorous to me when I occaisionally get asked on Monday morning by a non-golfer “did you shoot any golf over the weekend?”

    Sometimes want to answer “no, but I did get two ducks and a turkey!”

  4. A similar debate exists involving my other hobby: LEGO. According to The LEGO Group, “LEGO” is a proper adjective. You can have a LEGO brick or a LEGO set or a LEGO Minifigure, but you do not play with “a LEGO”–or even worse: “Legos.”
    For the most part, I just appreciate that anybody still cares about language enough to argue about it, but I’d always much rather play a game of golf with my buddies or build a town out of LEGO bricks with my brothers.
    Getting people to stop driving with their phones in hand is a far more worthy endeavor, if you’re out to change the way we behave in 2017.

    • Now that I’ve taken care of this “golf” thing, I’ll tackle cell phones next.
      Companies are always afraid of losing their trademarks by allowing them to become generic terms. They always want you to say things like an M&M’s candy, instead of an M&M, or a Hershey’s chocolate bar, rather than a Hershey bar. Screw them. When I need to blow my nose, I grab a kleenex.

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