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Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 9:40 pm
by Bobinwales
Some of you may have noticed that there is a bit of a sporting get-together happening in China.

Well there is this American swimmer who is doing rather well by the name of Michael Phelps, and now that he has 11 gold medals he has become, according to some reporter on possibly NBC, the winningest Olympian ever.

Please America, I beg of you, not winningest, please. Drown the woman before she says it again. Don't let this go unchallenged.

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 9:46 pm
by Erik_Kowal
It seems rather unfair to make this woman NBC's losingest reporter.

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:11 pm
by trolley
Everyone knows it should be most winningful.

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:14 pm
by Phil White

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:18 pm
by Phil White
Sorry, Bob, you lost:

The Wiktionary antedates the first occurrence to 1958, and I suspect that Ken will push it back a little further.

Perhaps we Brits could put an embargo on the word, however.

God, it's worse than I thought: "Winningest kittens"

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 12:03 am
by Bobinwales
Sorry, Bob, you lost:
Oh god, is there no hope for us?

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 12:08 am
by russcable
Earliest hits in Google News Archive are in 1942 in the New York Times no less - they do have the decency to put "quotes" around it though.

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 5:30 am
by spiritus
The writings of native English speaking sport journalists, would seem to indicate that the informal adjective, winningest, has a well-established and useful application. Every sports writer worth her salt (or sweat) knows English is an isolating language. Within her speech community, the sports reporter may be highly appreciative of the usage of superlative and comparative agglutinated words such as, "boxingest, pitchingest, battingest, and runningest”. However, she is always mindful of the fact that an editor or highly regarded proponents of prescriptive grammar may make or break a journalist's career. Thus, in describing an athlete or team that is more successful or winning more often than any others of its kind, rather then apply a blasphemous agglutination of the English word for the top athlete or teams' sport, the barely tolerable, but quite succinct, winningest is used.

For those who gag at the very idea of using the word, "swimmingest", or seek divine intervention to describe Michael Phelps' athletic skills, feel free to use the word, winningest, without fear of lightening strikes. That is, of course, unless you prefer, "winsome" which case you're on your own.

(Quote marks are provided for decency's sake.)

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 8:28 am
by Tony Farg
I don't know hat paper you read, but I've never 'eard of any of them, and definitely could not bring myself to say or write them...but then I'm neither female nor a sports journalist!

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 8:50 am
by Erik_Kowal
'Winningest' scores some 90,000 Google hits, 'losingest' about half that. The same yardstick shows that Che/Spiritus's other sports-related superlatives are currently minority coinages, but I can understand their potential attraction.

If I used them I would forego the punctuational modesty drapes and dispense with the quote marks: hell, if you're setting out to offend people's linguistic sensibilities, you ought at least to do so shamelessly!

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2008 9:33 pm
by Ken Greenwald
Gentlemen, My first reaction to WINNINGEST was, Ugh! What an abortion and I do sympathize with you guys from the U.K. But after reading what Spiritus had to say, and upon reflection, and seeing how widely used it actually is in the U.S., even by serious journalists (which I hadn’t been aware of), I am more sympathetic. It seems to have became a useful and popular (mainly) sports shortcut in the U.S., to express something that otherwise would be a bit awkward to say, especially in pithy sports headlines (e.g. John Doe, the winner of more blah blah blah than anyone in history; The Mudville Spartans, who have achieved the most wins of any mud-wrestling team since time began; . . . ). But others, not fortunate enough to live in the U.S., have somehow managed to survive – who knows how much longer they can continue to hold out?

On still further reflection, the dates given in Phil’s dictionary references (1956, 1972) seemed way too late. I felt that the 1942 that Russ gave, was more like it. In Brooklyn (New York City) where I grew up, there were some brutal and frequent manglings of the English language. My uncle Eddie insisted on pronouncing “oil” as earl, and “don’t know from nothins” abounded, “fuhgeddaboutits” were on everyone’s lips, “and hows!” were constantly provided as support for a friend’s pronouncements, “ged ouda here! was a popular friendly protestation of disbelief, . . . And I’m close to certain that ‘WINNINGEST, “having achieved the most wins” was alive and well in Brooklyn, at least from the 1940s through the late 1950s when I finally made my escape to Queens (another one of New York City’s 5 boroughs), where, in comparison, the king’s English flourished.

It’s my impression that Merriam-Webster Online probably felt comfortable with its way-late 1972 dating because it was is in line with the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest quote of 1974 (see below). As to why the OED was so far off . . . . . However, WINNINGEST, in a somewhat different sense – not victory in sports – actually dates back to the 19th century, where it was an expansion of the participle adjective WINNING) (1596), meaning persuasive (now rare or obsolete); charming; engaging; pleasing: a winning child; a winning smile. And it was this WINNING which gave birth to the nonsports/noncompeteive versions winningly (1663), wingingness (1727), and winningest (1870) – see quotes below.
<1870 “At the breakfast table that morning, . . . one of the dearest, WINNINGEST little women in the world, . . .”—St. Joseph Herald (Michigan), 16 April, page 3>

<1887 “There came to us early last evening, / and argued his very first case, /the WINNINGEST little lawyer, with a querulous look on his face . . .”—Decatur Republican (Illinois), 5 May, page 2> [[Note: From card sent out by a prominent family on the birth of their child – the ‘winningest little lawyer’>

<1891 (advertisement) “Carpets are in the line, too, in the WINNINGEST way. The lots we told you of on Tuesday are still in attractive variety.”— Trenton Evening Times (New Jersey, 21 March, page 2>

<1924 “Meanwhile there is a serious minded stage stenographer . . . that drama reduces to the worthiest and WINNINGEST terms.”— New York Times, 10 September, page 21>

<1958 “. . . [U.S. singer, actress, and television personality] Dinah Shore [has], the WINNINGEST smile. Miss Shore also takes top honors for her TV dresses.”— Middlesboro Daily News (Kentucky), 12 March, page 2>

<1997 “Then the world would see her for what she really is: the WINNINGEST personality to come along in the last 50 years.”—Los Angeles Times (California), 19 May>
The earliest ‘victory in sports’ usage I found was from 1930. But one might argue that some of these early sports-related hits still meant ‘charming, engaging, pleasing,’ rather than “achieving the most wins,” but I think that's probably not the case, and that it would be hard to prove. On the third hand, the ‘charming, engaging, pleasing’ meaning ultimately derives from the common verb 'win,' which in this case meant ‘win favor’ by being captivating, attractive, charming, . . . Soo, the transition from one to the other might not have really have been all that abrupt.

From its beginnings in the 1930s, WINNINGEST went on to become a well-entrenched, sports-writer’s standard in the U.S., but for some unexplained reason, it never caught on in the rest of the civilized world. (<;) Incidentally, in the various news archives, etc. that I searched, WINNINGEST in the sense of ‘victory in sports’ produced tens of thousands of news archive hits – I was totally unaware of its popularity. On the other hand, I was actually fairly hard-pressed to find examples in its other sense (see above), especially from recent times.
<1930 “Here's what they did: Walters kept his record as baseball's ‘WINNINGEST’ pitcher intact by taking his 16th victory from Dodgers.”— Stevens Point Daily Journal (Wisconsin), 22 July, page 6>

<1933 “Alvin Crowder, the majors' WINNINGEST pitcher, rang up victory No. 19 yesterday at the expense of the highly confused White Sox.”—Chicago Daily Tribune, 16 August, page 25>

<1936 “Manager James Dykes of the White Sox yesterday threw his two WINNINGES pitchers against the Cleveland Indians . . .”—Chicago Daily Tribune, 5 July, page A1>

<1937 “Frank Thomas, the East Chicagoan who went south to become America’s WINNINGEST football coach at Alabama . . .”—Hammond Times (Indiana), 16 July, page 77>

<1940 “. . . the Green Bay Packers, pro champions and the ‘WINNINGEST’ team in the money game.”—Burlington Daily News (North Carolina), 28 August, page 9>

<1942 “This was an eventful day in the career of Claude Passeau, the Cubs' WINNINGEST pitcher. Chicago Daily Tribune, 23 July, page 21>

<1950 “Gordon Richards, the world s WINNINGEST jockey, today rode his 100th winner of the current British flat racing season.”—New York Times, 7 July, page 26>

<1960 “For several years America's WINNINGEST thoroughbred trainer, Hirsch Jacobs, . . .”—Time Magazine, 3 October>

<1967 “76ers Close Out WINNINGEST Season: The Philadlphia 76ers closed their record-setting regular National Basketball Association season with a 132-129 victory over the last-place Baltimore Bullets.”—Washington Post, Times Herald, 20 March, page D3>

<1970 “The Cincinnati Reds became the WINNINGEST team in the club's history Sunday, beating the Dodgers, 8-5, . . .”—Los Angeles Times (California), 28 September, page D2>

<1974 “John Bates, coach of Maryland-Eastern Shore, at 26-1 the WINNINGEST college basketball team in the nation.”—State (Columbia, South Carolina, 5 March, page 6-A/7> [[OED’s earliest in sports sense, and thus the claim that the expression hails from the 1970s]]

<1980 “Steve Stone, the WINNINGEST pitcher in the major leagues with a 17-4 record . . .”—The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland), 6 August, page 23>

<1990 “Shoemaker, 58, retired in February as the WINNINGEST jockey in history . . .”—Boston Globe, 3 June>

<2000 “Lenny Wilkens . . . , at 62, the WINNINGEST coach in NBA . . . “—Washington Post22, June>

<2008 “Texas, the nation’s WINNINGEST major-college football program over the past decade (103 victories), . . .”—Fort Worth Star Telegram (Texas), 26 July, page >
(one quote from the Oxford English Dictionary, as noted, and the rest from archived sources)

Ken – August 14, 2008

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 12:17 am
by Phil White
Ken Greenwald wrote:... It seems to have became a useful and popular (mainly) sports shortcut in the U.S., to express something that otherwise would be a bit awkward to say, especially in pithy sports headlines (e.g. John Doe, the winner of more blah blah blah than anyone in history; The Mudville Spartans, who have achieved the most wins of any mud-wrestling team since time began; . . . ). But others, not fortunate enough to live in the U.S., have somehow managed to survive – who knows how much longer they can continue to hold out?
Sky News simply said "Phelps becomes most successful Olympian". I don't think that significantly takes the pith out of the original.

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 12:43 am
by Phil White
On consideration, there may be a couple of reasons for the fact that it hasn't yet caught on in the UK.

The basic rules for the comparison of adjectives are relatively clear: If an adjective has one syllable, it forms the comparative and superlative with "-er" and "-est" respectively, and if it has three or more syllables, it forms the comparative and superlative with "more + adjective" and "most + adjective" respectively. With two syllables, it's largely a matter of personal style and sentence rhythm. I also have the distinct impression that US speakers tend rather more to the "-er/-est" options than UK speakers given the chance - by no means clear-cut, but a tendency. At least one study suggests that the "-er/-est" comparison is becoming less common in the UK (Smeds, Fredrik. Adjective Comparison in Contemporary British English: A Corpus Study of More than One Hundred Adjectives. (2008-08-15)).

Ed: The rules above are extremely general and laden with so many exceptions that they are nigh-on useless for foreign learners of English. Having said that, the tendency to use the analytic form (with "more") is certainly far more pronounced with polysyllabic words and is almost exclusively used with trisyllabics upwards.

Of course, maybe Americans have just read too much George Orwell:
Comparison of adjectives was invariably made by adding -er, -est (good, gooder, goodest), irregular forms and the more, most formation being suppressed.
But the other reason it makes me gibber is that it doesn't appear to make a heap of sense at first sight. Assuming it's a superlative form of a straight adjective, then it's the superlative of "winning" as in "the winning team". The problem is, "the winning team" means the team that is currently in the process of winning (or perhaps has just won), but doesn't refer to a sequence of wins. What is actually needed for that meaning is "the having-won-oftenest team" (a perfectly natural way of expressing such concepts in German, by the way). That explains why, when I discovered that nauseating page with the kittens, it bothered me a little less (the word, I mean - the kittens were still nauseating), as I took it to mean "most charming", and a perfectly valid superlative of "winning" in that sense (although, as with "most charming" above, I would personally use the "more" superlative).

Okay, of course, it means what it means and even Bob and I shall have to live with it, although I suspect it won't pass our lips.

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 12:59 am
by Ken Greenwald
Phil White wrote: Sky News simply said "Phelps becomes most successful Olympian". I don't think that significantly takes the pith out of the original.
Phil, The meaning of most successful Olympina might depend on one’s perspective and definition of success. Running a 3 minute mile, getting the most perfect scores in something, being paid 10 million dollars by a sponsor, discovering a cure for cancer, breaking the most world records, or winning the most medals could, in the eyes of some, be grounds for declaring someone the “most successful Olympian.” If the number of medals is one’s criteria, then the most successful and the WINNINGEST Olympian, the winner of the most Olympic medals, was Larissa Latynina of the Soviet Union who participated in the 1956, 1960, and 1964 Summer Games. She won 9 gold, 5 silver, and 4 bronze for a total of 18 medals. Phelps has accumulated a mere 13 as of yesterday. (<;)

Ken – August 14, 2008

Re: Olympics [winningest]

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 1:27 am
by Phil White
Not sure that "most successful Olympian" could (or would) be misunderstood.

There are some memorable names and events, and many of the athletes could justifiably be called "the greatest Olympian of all time" or "the most notable", but only one the "most successful". (Success, by the way, according to the Olympic medal table philosophy, places a person who has taken a single gold medal above one who has taken any number of silver and bronze medals and no gold.)

Some of these could rightly be called "the greatest", but not "the most successful".
Cassius Clay (truly "the greatest")
Lasse Viren
Kip Keino
Richard Fosbury
Nadia Comaneci
Mark Spitz
Emil Zatopek
Carl Lewis
Jesse Owens
Olga Korbut
Daley Thompson

or even
Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards
Eric "the Eel" Moussambani

But you have to hand it to that Phelps guy. What's he on?