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I get my mords wixed when you’re around.
My tang gets tungled and compound.
This is what you do to me.
I can’t speak to you, you see.
Billy Sunday, the uneducated old time evangelist, reflected upon that sentiment in his own homespun manner: “When the English language gets in my way, I walk over it!”
Over the years there have been countless people in the public eye who have “walked all over it” and they were not all called Festus Haggen of TV’s “Gunsmoke” fame either.
Some have deliberately lacerated their lingo for effect, recognizing that sometimes being “hokey” is appealing. The mythical Parry Sound farmer of “Hee Haw” fame, Charlie Farquharson, was front and centre in that department. In 1993 when Bill Clinton became President of the USA, he commented on how different it would be with a “saxophone player in the White House”. He further stated that he was “sympathetic to the new national CEO because I was a musician myself—I used to play on the linoleum!”
Then there are those for whom English is not their first language, and they struggle to effectively express themselves without fracturing their phrases. For instance, Jean Pusie, a French Canadian who got more ink than a Sheaffer’s pen during his nine years on the pro shinny scene, mangled the content of Mr. Webster’s dictionary through no fault of his own.
In the early 1930’s when a teammate complained that the big forward would not pass the puck to him, he replied: “I skate h’up de h’ice: I no see you. I skate aroun’ de net; I no see you. Den I look h’up an I see you. But I cannot pass de puck, because you are park in de penalty box!”
But there are also others who just cannot get a handle on simple syntax, with the result that they often are guilty of the most mystifying double talk. Certainly the sports world is saturated with examples of diabolical dialogue.
When a former New Orleans Saint running back, George Rogers was asked about the upcoming season, his ambition was summarized with this dandy: “I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards—whichever comes first!”
When Lou Duva was trainer for boxer Andrew Golota, he spoke of the heavyweight’s regimen: “He’s a guy who gets up at 6 o’clock in the morning regardless of what time it is.”
Of course, the most quoted of all was Yogi Berra, the New York Yankee’s icon. In his ghost-written book “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said”, is included his most famous word mangling: “It gets late early out here!”
But the aforementioned Pusie is but one from Canada’s National Sport who managed to jumble their jargon whenever they opened their mouths.
Bob Dill, an old time toughie, whose major league tenure spanned 1944 and 1945, once assessed his early-season performance with the Broadway Blueshirts this way: “I didn’t get off to much of a start; but I hope to continue later on!”
Bob Dillabough skated for the Oakland Seals in the late 1960’s. Like most players he didn’t last very long with the ill-fated club. He was a very fast skater but somehow his stickhandling ability couldn’t keep up with his mobility. Invariably he would lose the puck in his drive for the opposition end of the rink. He also had trouble getting his mind in gear before he got his tongue in motion. One night he managed a rare breakaway and scored. When he skated back to the bench he puffed: “I didn’t think my legs would stand with me!”
The passing of time, and the increase in educated competitors was no guarantee that spasmodic speech had disappeared. While Brett Hull was a member of the St. Louis Blues he was chosen team captain. But in 1995, while Mike Keenan was steering the ship, the youthful sniper was stripped of his “C”. Hull’s comment after his demotion came out like this: “He’s the kind of guy who will stab you in the back right to your face!” Say again!
The chronicle of the Patrick family is without equal. There were three generations who made it to the Big Time, starting with Lester and Frank, continuing with the former’s sons, Muzz and Lynn, and ending with Grandsons Glenn and Craig.
Murray, or Muzz, as he was nicknamed, was singled out (tongue-in-cheek) as “having a way with words”. As coach of the Rangers in 1954 he was being interviewed about how the team’s record was faring. “We’ve overwhelmed 12, underwhelmed 19, and whelmed six (the latter referring to ties) Really?
Another bench boss who got his tang tungled up was Fred Shero, whose coaching career was much longer than his playing tenure. He always maintained that he wanted his beverages kept by the heating pipes in the arena—“because cold drinks give me acid congestion.”
He referred to goalie Doug Soetaert as “Stow-dard” and Nick Fotiu as “Foy-too”. When asked about his assessment of games, he used to say “We’ll have to look at the ‘fill-ums’ first. When he was asked about the value of statistics, he answered: “They are meaningless. They only look good on bubble gum (forgot the word “cards”).
I saw Emile Francis between the pipes in the Winnipeg Arena in 1956, when he tended goal for the WHL Seattle Americans. After watching that performance it was no mystery to me why he was called “the Cat”—for that’s the way he moved. He was also quick with the quip—but not always in textbook English. Following a game where there were several scraps, he commented: “That game wasn’t exactly played by the Queen of Marquesberry rules!”
His philosophy of how to approach the game came out this way: “Got to work hard—got to pipe the payer!”
Perhaps his most redundant remark was his affirmation that “hockey is a slippery game—it’s played on ice!”
Phil Watson, both as a player, and as a shinny tutor had a penchant for muffed metaphors. When he wore the colours of the New York Rangers his playing days paralleled those of the granddaddy of body checkers, “Bucko” McDonald. During one contest “Bucko” kept knocking him to the ice. Wisely he didn’t retaliate physically. So he attacked him verbally. “McDonald! You’re nothing but a been has!”
On another occasion, following a disappointing loss as a coach, he announced: “Gentlemen! I have nothing to say. Any questions?”
Once, when being interviewed, and being asked about his long-standing association with the game, he summarized with: “Gee! I could write a book about the things I shoulda did, but didn’t!”
Then there was the time that his running feud with backstop, “Gump” Worsley, backfired. Although the Gumper was with New York, his home was in Montreal, and he had some pull there. Amazingly enough, one day of a Ranger/Hab game, he received a call from Watson, stating that he was all stuffed with a cold, and could Worsley arrange some time in a local health association steam room. He obliged, and took advantage of the opportunity to stretch out on an adjacent cot under a big sun lamp. Both fell asleep, got up and went their own ways.
That night the Blueshirts took a terrible beating at the Forum, putting Philippe in a terrible mood.
The often berated twine-tender, following the contest, walked into the locker room the same time as some of the local journalists.
“Get those blankety blank Montreal writers out of here!”, Watson bellowed.
The mischievous “Gump”, not appreciating getting yelled at, shouted back: “But Phil. Only at noon today we slept together….!” (Did he, or did he not, MEAN to say that?)
Broadcasters have had their share of tongue slippage over the years. Hal Totten, who called the play on radio for the Blackhawks in the early 1940’s left an indelible legacy in this regard. During the 1941 campaign, for instance, he excitedly announced that in a Chicago/Montreal tilt, “Cully Dahlstrom and Murph Chamberlain bumped together and they both fell to their feet!” It didn’t draw any accolades from the club for which he did the play-by-play that same winter when he referred to the Windy City crew as the “Chicago Blockheads”!
Jim Gordon, who called the action in Madison Square Garden in the 1950’s, had a problem with detail one night, when he shouted: “It’s a hot on goal—wide!”
Harry Westerby was just a plain, hardworking trainer with the New York Rangers over three decades starting in the 1920’s. He felt very intimidated by manager Lester Patrick’s mastery of vocabulary. This only made his tendency to jumble his jargon worse. In fact the Silver Fox used to openly berate him for what he described as “so many grammatical errors in so short a time…….”
The one highly publicized example which has made the rounds over the years would seem to confirm that. On one occasion “Babe” Pratt came into the infirmary with his foot cut and bleeding. “Say, Harry”, he queried. “It hurts a lot. Do you think it’s trivial?”
“Of course it’s trivial! It’s bleedin’ ain’t it?”, came the reply.
But another trainer—one Tim Daly, who held the same job with the Maple Leafs for 34 years—is the champion of champions when it comes to getting mords wixed. Back in 1943 while the Buds were on a road trip, coach “Hap” Day was disgusted when he saw the condition of the dressing room after a game. Not only was it a mess, but the no no of leaving sweaters on the floor had been ignored. “Are you going to let the players get away with this?”, he asked Daly.
“Nope! Wait ‘til I get ‘em back to the Gardens and sanitary (sanity) returns!”
Tim Daly - Courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame
When Max Bentley came to the Maple Leafs in the fall of 1947, there was a great deal of publicity accompanying the trade. As well, in-house, he was not enjoying the fuss being made over him. In fact he urged all and sundry to “hold off on the build-up”. However, the team was much in demand for picture taking, and the “dipsy-doodle-dandy” found it a bit irritating that he to be getting suited up so often. When Daly told him to get into uniform again, the slippery pivot complained that “This is getting monotonous—it’s the third time today.”
The explanation was simple and to the point: “You better get used to monogamy because youse is with the champs!”
The stocky locker room guru switched hats during the summer when he was a trainer for baseball teams. In 1942 he was on his way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to carry out his assignment. As he was leaving he offered to send news back to Andy Lytle, Sports Editor of the Toronto Star. He promised to “throw stuff (news) at him like a hot pitcher throws across the plate!”
But he didn’t want to be contacted by phone. “I allus tighten up on the phone. It’s me eardrums. They got penetrated in the las’ war (WW1) I’ll wire youse using my own form of dese and dem and dose—which you can expect reglur!”
To old Tim, “mathematical” became “mechanical”; “itineraries” were “artilleraries”; “unmarred” translated to “unmarried”; “ulcer” was “ulster”; “phlegm” equaled “gittar”, and “suez canal” morphed to “sewage canal”.
But his classic language gaffe occurred when a Boston newsman asked him to pick his all-time, All Star team. When it came to the centre position he glanced around the Toronto dressing room, and mumbled, “It would be a toss-up between (Joe) Primeau and (Syl) Apps.
The former, who was the team’s coach at that time scolded: “Go on, you old hypocrite. You know right well you would have chosen Apps if I hadn’t been here!”
“Wal”, he admitted. “You sort of had me on the horns of a lemon!”
Finally, there was the time in 1946 when Clarence Campbell, President of the NHL, was asked, as he often was, to be guest speaker at a business luncheon. The chairman of the gathering introduced him this way: “He’s President of the NHL, and he is extinguished by the fact that he allus wears a ROADS COLLER”!
It’s not what they said—but what they meant!”
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