With greater than 5 minutes of taking part in time left within the first half of the sport between the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals, I nearly turned off the TV. I got here this shut. The Chiefs had an 18-point benefit, however greater than that, that they had the Bengals’ quantity. The Chiefs’ offense marched up and down the sector at will. Their protection silenced the Bengals’ roar.
I had the distant in my hand. I had a factoid in my head: Solely 10 instances within the decades-long historical past of the Nationwide Soccer League playoffs had groups overcome scoring deficits of the magnitude then confronting the Bengals. The percentages of them rallying to beat the Chiefs and graduate to the Tremendous Bowl have been slim, so the case for persevering with to observe the sport was weak.
And but. The percentages in opposition to the Bengals had been monumental firstly of the season, when just about nobody picked them to come back this far. They’d had a depressing 4-11-1 file the earlier 12 months and an much more depressing 2-14 file the 12 months earlier than that. They have been grist for mockery, objects of pity, their tiger-stripe helmets a Potemkin present of fierceness — till September, once they began profitable after which saved profitable and headed down the heady street that will result in this matchup in opposition to the persistently fearsome Chiefs.
If the Chiefs got here into the competition as a mannequin of ruthless scoring effectivity, the Bengals arrived as a mannequin of one thing much less quantifiable and fewer classifiable however arguably extra consequential. That one thing combines hope, perseverance and the distinctive confidence that comes from getting fortunate breaks, profiting from them and outperforming expectations typically sufficient that doing so once more appears much less a statistical lengthy shot than future.
It’s an ineffable amalgam. It exists aside from any literal-minded evaluation of a participant’s or group’s strengths and weaknesses. It ended up lifting the Bengals above the Chiefs. And it’ll energy their victory over the Los Angeles Rams, one other opponent that’s “higher on paper,” in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
It’s additionally what the winners of final 12 months’s Tremendous Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had. The Bucs’ look within the Bowl wasn’t almost as massive a shock because the Bengals’ is, however they, too, had a season that exceeded most experts’ expectations. They, too, beat the chances. Tom Brady had joined the group, and the extent of his play at quarterback was a selected, measurable improve.
However to observe the Bucs then was to understand that one thing larger and vaguer was taking place. Brady’s presence tamped down the opposite gamers’ doubts about themselves and uncorked their desires. It endowed them with a way of specialness. It gave them an aura. It gave them religion.
That religion: It’s a part of so many nice soccer tales, so many nice sports activities tales. It’s current within the champion who bounces again from a supposedly career-ending damage, within the Olympian with a beforehand unthinkable tally of gold medals. It spawns a specific vocabulary, giving two nouns that start with “m” a notably heavy exercise.
“It was a miracle end becoming for a miracle season,” Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote when the Bengals beat the Tennessee Titans within the last seconds to get to the American Soccer Convention championship recreation in opposition to the Chiefs. Sure, the Bengals’ protection had made essential stands at key moments, and the Bengals’ younger quarterback, Joe Burrow, had been a clutch hero once again. However neither issue absolutely defined the result, so out got here “miracle,” even earlier than the larger miracle that the Bengals proceeded to tug off by pulling even with the Chiefs and beating them in time beyond regulation.
Put a string of miracles collectively and also you a get a phrase that sportswriters and sports activities fans like even higher: “momentum.” Momentum resides as a lot within the realm of superstition as on the earth of science, so I’ll go a woo-woo step additional with my “m” noun for what the Bengals possess, for what they’re touched by, for why they’ll prevail: It’s magic.
Phrases Price Scrutiny: ‘Liar’ Versus … What?
“We have now many phrases for individuals who lie,” Laurie Caplan, a reader from Astoria, Ore., wrote to me just a few days in the past, including that her thesaurus brimmed with them. Mine, too: “liar,” “fibber,” “fabulist,” “prevaricator” and a dozen or so extra. However, she stated, “I can’t consider one phrase for individuals who inform the reality; we now have to say an trustworthy individual, or an individual with integrity, and so on. I attempted others, however ‘reality teller’ is 2 phrases.”
What, she questioned, does that reveal concerning the English language and concerning the genuineness and energy of our supposed admiration for individuals who inform it to us straight?
I’m undecided. Possibly nothing in any respect. This appears to be extra a noun downside than an adjective downside and probably a quirk. However her query and statement caught with me as a result of they form of match into a bigger sample, at the very least the place a lot information protection and so many on a regular basis conversations are involved: We’re extra mesmerized by and voluble about wrongdoing than we’re about right-doing.
And that’s not merely a corrective impulse, an try to eradicate such transgressions and warn folks off them, lest they discover themselves inducted into the corridor of disgrace. There’s typically a adverse, pessimistic mind-set at play. There’s probably schadenfreude within the combine.
Regardless of the purpose, we’re often faster to name out the dangerous actors than to congratulate the great ones — with exceptions. The Tremendous Bowl. The Olympics. These occasions signify moments after we concentrate on the feats of which persons are succesful, and we now have no scarcity of phrases for these achievers. They’re winners. Champions. Heroes.
“Phrases Price Scrutiny” is a recurring characteristic. To counsel a time period or phrase, please e mail me here, and please embrace your title and place of residence.
For the Love of Lyrics
I stated this characteristic would run about each 5 weeks however am bringing it again prior to that as a result of: wow. Tons of of you’ve got expressed your enthusiasm for it by nominating songwriters and songs. I’m delighted and grateful. And I’m holding on to your nominations in order that I can showcase lots of them over time.
In the last installment, I praised Aimee Mann and famous her shocking rhymes. David Argentieri of Bennington, Vt., wrote in to say that I’d ignored among the finest of those, firstly of her music “Save Me”:
You seem like an ideal match
For a woman in want of a tourniquet
However Mann has loads of opponents within the rhymes-you-don’t-see-coming sweepstakes. Anne Brown of Boston, Nan Tecotzky of Manhattan and Elaine Shute of Mount Desert, Maine, directed my consideration to the songwriter Stephin Merritt and, specifically, his work with the band the Magnetic Fields, together with the music “A Chicken with its Head Cut Off,” which begins by rhyming “eligible” with “intelligible” and “silly” with “Cupid.”
I flashed on a favourite Magnetic Fields music of mine, “You Must Be Out of Your Mind,” which, in its first verse, has these strains:
I would like you crawling again to me
Down in your knees, yeah
Like an appendectomy
Can “again to me” paired with “appendectomy” and “your knees, yeah” with “anesthesia” be topped? In that case, maybe it’s by the Bonnie Raitt hit “Thing Called Love,” written by the exceptional John Hiatt, who rhymes “Queen of Sheba” with “amoeba” in a vogue that makes full sense. (Because of Dave Murray of Syracuse, N.Y., and Phil Oswald of Grand Marais, Minn., amongst others, for nominating Hiatt, and to Martha Menard of Blaine, Wash., for naming this music specifically.)
No less than 30 of you urged just a few phrases of thanks and reward for an additional songwriter named John — John Prine, who died in 2020 of problems associated to the coronavirus. His catalog is monumental, and it contains its personal share of corny curveball rhymes, like this from “You Got Gold”:
Life is a blessin’
It’s a delicatessen
Of all of the little favors you do
However Prine was even higher often known as a grasp of metaphor and novelistic element, as in “Sam Stone,” which incorporates this description of a veteran who turns into an injecting drug addict: “There’s a gap in daddy’s arm the place all the cash goes.”
Prine was a poet of disenchantment, with the narrator of “Far from Me” noting that:
We used to chortle collectively
And we’d dance to any outdated music
Nicely, , she nonetheless laughs with me
However she waits only a second too lengthy
Or, in “Paradise”:
Then the coal firm got here with the world’s largest shovel
And so they tortured the timber and stripped all of the land
Nicely, they dug for his or her coal until the land was forsaken
Then they wrote all of it down because the progress of man
(Because of lots of you, together with Tim Kelly of Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Spain; Judith Moran of Denver; and Kevin Geraghty of Boise, Idaho)
“For the Love of Lyrics” seems month-to-month(ish). To appoint a songwriter and music, please e mail me here, together with your title and place of residence. “For the Love of Sentences” will return subsequent week; you should utilize the identical hyperlink to counsel current snippets of prose for it.
What I’m Studying/On a Private Be aware (Particular Combo!)
There are circumstances on this life which might be all good or all dangerous. There are wellsprings of unalloyed happiness, and there are sources of undiluted despair. However they’re the uncomplicated exceptions. The majority of our existences is 50 million shades of grey.
And that’s what my good friend Heather Havrilesky acknowledges so wittily and properly in her new ebook, “Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage,” which was printed simply this week. Heather moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., from the Los Angeles space across the identical time final summer time as my very own transfer right here from Manhattan. We’d by no means met, however considered one of our mutual associates, Kerry Lauerman, pressed every of us on the opposite. Heather came to visit for wine. I believe I even rallied to place out some cheese and crackers. We traded journalism warfare tales. We swapped confidences. Afterward, we texted and made a vow: That received’t be the final time. And it wasn’t.
An excerpt from “Foreverland” that The Instances printed in late December drew important consideration, together with from you. Marcia Watt of Skaneateles, N.Y., emailed me to reward the prose in Heather’s assertion that “surviving a wedding requires turning down the quantity in your partner so you’ll be able to barely hear what they’re saying. You could do that not solely so that you don’t overdose on the identical stultifying phrases and phrases inside the first 12 months, but in addition so your partner’s numerous grunts and sneezes and snorts and throat clearings don’t function a magic flute that causes you to wander out the entrance door and into the wilderness, by no means to return.”
John Langmore of Austin, Tex., tipped his hat to Heather’s description of the moments when her husband, Invoice, a college professor, turns into a caricature of his occupation: “After which our dashing hero begins to carry forth on ‘the educational sciences’ — how I hate that time period! — and he shortly wilts earlier than my eyes right into a cursed educational, a cross between a lonely nerd talking some archaic language solely 5 different folks on earth perceive and a haunted ice cream man, circling his truck by means of the neighborhood within the useless of winter, trying to find youngsters.”
On social media, some folks took exception to Heather’s unvarnished appraisal of Invoice. They felt she’d humiliated him. I didn’t. I noticed the humor and intentional hyperbole at play — and the love beneath the laments. I assumed that Invoice had consented to the portrait. And I understood that to de-romanticize marriage, Heather needed to de-romanticize the individual to whom she’s married.
She later informed me: “Most individuals are very cautious about what they’ll inform you about their marriages. I’m pleased with my marriage on so many ranges, and I believe that reveals in my ebook. However the very last thing I’d need is to brag about the good things with out dipping into the darkish nights of the soul.” Her portrait of Invoice, she added, was as a lot a portrait of herself — of how grumpy a spouse she may be. And Invoice was certainly superb along with her placing all of it on the market. The excerpt is from “considered one of his favourite chapters of the ebook,” she stated.
To strip away artifice is to let go of concern: There are fewer secrets and techniques to be guarded, much less likelihood of publicity. And no one can come alongside and shatter your illusions in the event you’ve taken a hammer to them your self. Doing so is the essence of inventive destruction: The shards round you change into jigsaw items that you just match collectively till they take the form of a contentment that’s actual and sturdy. Within the puzzle of my very own life — and, I’d wager, in Heather’s — one shade predominates. It’s grey.