Words and their meanings are important.
That’s why, several months back, I wrote about the consistent and even disingenuous misuse of the term “humbled” by athletes.
Today, I am taking sportscasters to task for a phrase we hear over and over and over again that, when you actually break it into its component words, is downright silly.
Just a few minutes ago, while watching the Michigan State-Purdue game, I heard Clark Kellogg comment on how Michigan State’s likely win over the Boilers would allow the Spartans to “control their destiny” in the race for the regular season Big Ten title.
I like Clark Kellogg. He’s mostly terrific at what he does. He’s fun and has his own unique style. I greatly anticipate listening to him a lot over the next six weeks.
But come on Clark, not even the greatest sports team in the world can ever “control” its destiny.
Here is the definition of destiny, according to Merriam-Webster:
a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency
The key word there, of course, is “predetermined.” The key phrase is “irresistible power.”
It seems to me that the definition of destiny leaves very little wiggle room: it has already been determined and it cannot be controlled.
So perhaps even just in passing comments we should stop granting sports teams, athletes, and any other mere mortal or collection of mortals the omnipotence to control something that, by definition, cannot be controlled.
What Clark Kellogg meant to say was that Michigan State “controls its future” or “controls its ultimate Big Ten ranking” or any number of other things it can actually control, all of which would have been more accurate and descriptive to say.
And while you may say this is silly to write about, I don’t think so (obviously). Again, if we aren’t particular about what words mean, well…then what exactly do they mean?
And frankly, I don’t consider it out of bounds to hold people who get paid to say words accountable for choosing the right ones.
So, to Clark Kellogg and all others who may feel compelled to tells us that some person or team “controls” its “destiny” I just offer this quick request: don’t. Say what you actually mean.
We and the English language will all be better for it.