Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Get Untracked

Let's get one thing straight. The most unfortunate sports broadcasting development over the last ten years is not Fox's glowing hockey puck, Fox's robot that "warms up" during sponsorship breaks, or Fox's insistence that Tim McCarver and Tony Siragusa are world-class analysts. None of those are as irritating as an announcer telling us that an underperforming player or team needs to "get untracked"

These play-by-play and color men have the best intentions. We know they mean to say "on track." Somewhere along the line, however, it's become acceptable to mangle the phrase into its current incarnation. Common Errors in English explains it this way: "When things begin running smoothly and successfully, they get “on track.” Some people oddly substitute “untracked” for this expression, perhaps thinking that to be “tracked” is to be stuck in a rut."

I don't think that's it. These announcers aren't thinking, "Wow, the Buzzsaw that is the Arizona Cardinals sure is tracked. Dennis Green needs to get them untracked." Most likely, an announcer made the error unwittingly and the director/producer/other guy in the booth didn't offer a correction or call him on it. So each next time someone said "get untracked," there was a bit more precedent for letting it slide. Kind of like Al Michaels describing an injured tailback as "out with a knee."

I can't point an accusatory finger at the first mover for "get untracked," but I wouldn't be surprised if the offending party was a former athlete; therein lies the perfect storm of less-than-comprehensive vocabulary and enough status that nobody will make fun of him. The phenomenon probably began during the time Marv Albert was out of work, because Marv's broadcast partner wouldn't have gotten away with it. Could you imagine how Marv would have responded to Matt Guokas during an NBA on NBC telecast?

Matt: John Starks has yet to get untracked this afternoon.
Marv: Matt, we need to talk this over! That's not what you had in mind!

Anyway, welcome to the site, and here's hoping the name will, in a few years, be as obsolete as a certain ex-Cardinals catcher.


Steve said...

Thank you! This has been bothering me for years.

dave said...

This guy actually wrote out the words Getting untracked


Anonymous said...

This is actually wrong, and unfortunately, the WSU site gives incorrect information (I'm guessing it is open source, and anybody can post what they believe to be "errors").

The correct phrase is "get untracked," referring to wagon wheels. The phrase "stuck in a rut" comes from the same place.

Over time, people mis-understanding the phrase, started to use "get on track" or "back on track." This is actually the incorrect use of the phrase.

If you think about it, it "get untracked" makes much more sense. A derailed train cannot "get back on track." When you're derailed, you're done.

You can, however, "get untracked" when your wheels are stuck in a rut.

So next time you want to attack Al Michaels, or other professionals for making a mistake, consider that it is actually you who have been making the mistake for years. That's why Al gets paid the big bucks.

No if we can only get the lesser broadcasters to stop using the word "less" when referring to a countable measure (i.e. there were less people in the stadium, they scored less points). When you can count it, the word "fewer" is the correct opposite of more.