I really enjoy my free time.
Now that our racing season is over, I can sit in my living room while the snow continues to pile up outside and watch a tennis match, as I did last night, between the Scot Andy Murray and the Argentine Juan Martín del Potro. I can revel in the euphemisms employed by the commentators when del Potro gets hit in the balls, and I can let my mind drift, during the injury timeout, to the topic of Scotsmen In Tennis.
I can recall how, in one of the more bizarre episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, itself a pretty bizarre TV show, "The Science Fiction Sketch" imagines England overrun by blancmange-shaped aliens from the planet Skyron. The blancmanges seem to have the power to turn everyone in England into red-bearded, kilt-wearing Scotsmen. It emerges that the blancmanges' end goal is to win Wimbledon, which will be an easy feat for them since their only opponents will be Scotsmen and (the sketch keeps reminding us) "it's well known that Scotland is the worst tennis-playing nation in the world." It is only after a dessert-hungry couple, Mr. and Mrs. Brainsample, eat the blancmange which is playing in the Wimbledon final, that one Angus Podgorny, Scotsman, is able to do the unthinkable and win the tournament.
Having re-watched this sublime bit of oddness, I can then start wondering whether I can be the only one to notice that the top British tennis player in the world today is, in fact, Mr. Murray, a Scotsman. A quick Google search confirms that I am not the first; among others, Mark Hodgkinson, a writer for The Telegraph has also noticed it.
Reading the article, which is about Britain's lack of success in the Davis Cup without its star layer, Murray, I become very confused when I read the following sentence:
[T]his defeat to Ukraine, played in Murray's absence, meant that Britain are still yet to win a tie north of Hadrian's Wall.
"Win a tie"? Is Britain really so bad at tennis that to them a tie would qualify as a "win"? Is it even possible for a tennis match to end in a tie? I know that something's up when the noun "tie" appears four more times in the article, apparently not meaning what I think it should mean.
That's when I go to one of my favorite lexicographical resources, OneLook.com, where I start examining different dictionaries' entries for "tie." My go-to dictionary, American Heritage, doesn't seem to list this meaning. Nor do Merriam-Webster's, Encarta, Webster's New World, or a dozen others — although they do list as many as 14 noun senses for the word! Of course, I should have begun my search with a British source: Sure enough, sense 4 in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English is "[Brit.] a sports match in which the winners proceed to the next round of the competition." That's the sense I was looking for, the one Mr. Hodgkinson emplyed so liberally.
Instead of going to OneLook, I guess I could have gone straight to the website that is fast becoming a more comprehensive resource than even the venerable OED: Wiktonary. The lexicographical partner to Wikipedia, the site can be remarkably comprehensive and up-to-date in ways print dictionaries (and their online versions) can't, thanks to its anyone-can-edit-anytime format. Just look how beautiful its entry for "tie" is. Right there in the list of noun senses we find: "(sports, British) A meeting between two players or teams in a competition" — and we even get a usage example: "The FA Cup third round tie between Liverpool and Cardiff was their first meeting in the competition since 1957." Perhaps the amateur (and professional?) lexicographers of Wiktionary have missed one subtlety, though, that Oxford's editors caught: a tie is not just any sporting match, but one "in which the winners proceed to the next round of the competition," as they do in both the Davis Cup and in the Wiktonary example. Score one for the experts.
I could follow my mind's wanderings like this all day, thanks to the time-suck of the Internet. Like I said, I really enjoy my free time.