The ICC Cricket World Cup gets under way in England and Wales soon. What better time to ponder some of the stranger parts of the grand old game’s vocabulary?
A crude swipe of the bat, moving across the line of the ball – possibly taking a chunk out of the pitch in the process, hence the agriculture link.
A term also used in baseball, meaning a delivery that whistles past the batsman’s head at an alarmingly close distance.
A delivery from a left-arm wrist spin bowler that pitches on a right-handed batsman’s off side (that is, to the bowler’s left side) and turns to the leg side; or vice versa for a left-handed batsman. Also known as left-arm unorthodox bowling.
It’s thought to be named after Ellis ‘Puss’ Achong, a West Indies bowler of Chinese heritage who was an early exponent of it. In a 1933 Test at Old Trafford, as England’s Walter Robins was on his way back to the pavilion after Achong had had him stumped, he reportedly said, ‘Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman.’
Other reports suggest the term was already in use long before then. It may have been based on the stereotypical view of the Chinese as being devious. Also, the general use of word Chinaman is widely considered derogatory. These factors might explain why the cricketing term isn’t so common in these (slightly) more enlightened times as it once was.
The area of the field between midwicket and wide long on – in other words, on the batsman’s leg side but quite some distance ahead. As it’s relatively unusual for shots to be played into this area, it’s been suggested that cows could safely graze there. When someone does manage to slog the ball in that direction, this is known as a cow shot.
The closing overs of an innings in a limited-overs match. Some bowlers are specialists in this phase of play, when the priority is usually to restrict scoring rather than to take wickets.
A unflattering term for slow-to-medium-paced bowling that doesn’t cause batsmen many problems.
A relatively new form of finger spin bowling, in which the ball turns in the opposite direction to what is expected. A doosra from a right-arm bowler pitches on a right-handed batsman’s leg side and turn to their off side, and vice versa for a left-arm bowler. (And, of course, double vice versa for a left-handed batsman.)
Pakistan’s Saqlain Mushtaq is credited with inventing the doosra in the 1990s. The term comes from a Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu word meaning ‘the second (other) one’.
Yet another type of deceptive spin delivery. Like the chinaman, it’s a wrist spin delivery that pitches on a right-handed batsman’s off side and turns to the leg side, which isn’t what they would usually expect; but it’s produced by a right-arm bowler.
Nobody seems to be sure where the word originated from. One theory is that it came about because the batsman ‘goggles’ in amazement over where the ball has ended up. Googly itself is also an adjective describing unfocused or rolling eyes.
A fielding position just outside the slip cordon, nearly level with the batsman. The name is derived from the narrow channel between the slips and the point position. I’d like to think that someone once caught Sourav Ganguly at gully off a googly, but sadly I can’t prove it.
A batsman’s unwanted feat of being dismissed for nought on their first ball (that’s a golden duck) in both innings of a match. Also known as a golden pair. A mere pair is when the batsman is out for no runs in both innings (just a duck), regardless of the number of balls faced.
An over where no runs are scored. The idea is that the bowling is ‘untouched’, like a traditionally virginal maiden (to paraphrase Madonna).
The controversial act of a bowler running out the batsman at the non-striking end, by stopping the run-up and breaking the wicket while the latter is backing up – that is, straying from the crease in order to get a head-start on a possible run (or through absent-mindedness). It’s named after India all-rounder Vinoo Mankad, who dismissed Australia’s Bill Brown this way in a 1947 Sydney test.
Whether it’s legal or not, mankading provokes heated debate over whether it’s within the all-important ‘spirit of the game’. Since a law change in 2011, it can only happen if the bowler hasn’t yet started their delivery stride. There have been some recent high-profile mankadings, though, notably when Ravichandran Ashwin of Kings XI Punjab trapped Jos Buttler of Rajasthan Royals in an Indian Premier League match. It’s feared that a spate of them could sour relations in this year’s World Cup.
A score of 111 by either a team or a batsman, which is thought to be unlucky. Why Nelson? Well, Admiral Horatio Nelson supposedly ended his days with one arm, one eye and one leg (he didn’t, but let’s not worry about that).
Another marvellously evocative piece of lingo (see also dibbly-dobbly), meaning a gentle prodding of the ball by the batsman into a nearby gap in the field. Often preceded by ‘nudging and’.
A close relative of dibbly-dobbly. It means a purveyor of slowish, innocuous bowling, where the ball’s movement resembles that of a hurled pie. Not intended as a compliment. Just a thought, though: how easily could a batsman hit an actual pie to the boundary?
A lower-order batsman who is notoriously easy to dismiss. A rabbit needs to be a specialist bowler (or astounding wicketkeeper) to merit a place in the team. Also known as a bunny or walking wicket.
A batsman who’s even worse than a rabbit might be called a ferret or weasel: out in the wild, a ferret or weasel always goes in after the rabbits (geddit?).
The term rabbit or bunny is also often used for a batsman who has often been dismissed by a particular bowler – for example, ‘Mike Atherton was Glenn McGrath’s bunny.’
A fielding position on the batsman’s off side. The silliness lies in the fielder’s close proximity to the batman, putting him in danger of being walloped by a well-hit ball. See also silly mid-on, silly midwicket and silly point (not here, though).
The slightly strange thing about wicket is that it can mean so many things. Here we go:
1. Each set of stumps and bails at either end of the pitch – that is, the prepared strip of ground in the middle of the field. (To add to the confusion for newcomers, the field itself is often referred to as the pitch. Speaking of which …)
2. The pitch. People tend to call it the wicket when discussing its condition, hence sticky wicket.
3. The taking of a wicket is the dismissal of a batsman: ‘New Zealand soon took another wicket.’
4. The other side of that coin is a batsman losing his wicket (being dismissed), or a team losing wickets.
See also wicketkeeper, midwicket, wicket maiden, last-wicket stand and so on.
Have I forgotten any good ones? If you think so, please get in touch ...
Writing numbers – that’s simple, isn’t it? You just use those keys from 1 to 0 near the top of the keyboard, or that number pad on the right.
If only it were that simple. Very often, it’s better to use words instead of numerals. If you’re writing for someone else, they might expect you use words in some situations.
As with so many things in the world of writing, this is mainly about style choices – and adapting your style to suit the type of material, its purpose, its context and its target audience.
First, we need to consider what kind of number we’re writing, and what it refers to …
So, what’s the point in all this variation? And how do we, or the people we’re writing or editing for, choose a style?
These aren’t just arbitrary rules. Words work better in some contexts, numerals in others. They each have their advantages and drawbacks.
Why use words?
Why use numerals?
In fiction, numbers tend to be used less, and to be less significant, than in non-fiction writing. And, in a book that’s going to be read for pleasure rather than out of necessity, it’s important to make the pages look appealing. This means minimising things that might ‘jump off the page’ and have a jarring effect – including numerals – if they’re to be used at all. So, it’s common for most, or even all, types of numbers to appear in word format.
The same applies to the more creative, literary end of the non-fiction spectrum. The reader should be allowed to get swept along in the narrative, with the visual aspects of the book giving them as few jolts as possible.
However, it’s a different story with writing that revolves around hard facts, such as business, technical or instructional material, and sometimes (depending on the subject) in academic or educational content as well. Here, numbers often play a big role in getting the message across, and there’s nothing wrong with making them stand out. You might well want the reader to absorb the numbers quickly, and perhaps compare or contrast them with each other. Making the pages look pretty is less of a priority. In tables, charts and diagrams, especially, numerals make a stronger impact than words.
Odds and ends
In almost any kind of writing, a number that acts as an identifier is usually written in numerals – for example, the number of a chapter in a book, or of a house on a named street.
It’s generally agreed that we should avoid starting a sentence with one or more numerals. This can look a bit odd, and in some contexts, the number might be mistaken for a section or paragraph reference.
There are some grey areas, a common one being where numbers above and below the words-to-numerals limit are used close together and in a closely related way. For example: ‘Their children were aged nine and 11.’ This can look a bit odd and jarring, and some style guides recommend choosing one style for both or all of the numbers – but others suggest that it isn’t enough of a problem to warrant breaking the usual rule.
And there are other related style issues that I won’t go into here, just to keep this thing fairly brief: commas in numbers above 999 (‘2,485’ vs ‘2485’), ordinal numbers (‘5th’ vs ‘fifth’), elision (‘341–5’, ‘341–45’ or ‘341–345’), dates, times, money amounts, percentages, sport scores, phone numbers.
Mind how you go
It’s worth paying attention to the way you write numbers: it makes a difference to the readability and impact power of the material you’re writing. There are no universally ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways, but following sensible guidelines can help you get the right balance between clarity and ease of reading – according to what you’re writing, who you’re writing it for, and why.
Thoughts on Words
An editorial blog. Posts by Graham Hughes.