Out of Bounds

Language from Another Era

I’m a card-carrying member of the old school outdoor writers guild

By Rob Breeding

At one of my first sports writing jobs we had an older gentleman who manned the evening copy desk. He was a friendly, helpful editor who provided useful suggestions to improve my writing.

He even taught me a new word, caroms, or I should say, a new usage. You don’t see it much these days, but in an earlier era, when all the players wore short-shorts and Hickory was an Indiana high school powerhouse, sports writers used caroms as a synonym for rebounds.

“Jimmy Chitwood had a big game for the Huskers, filling up the peach basket with 22 points while gathering nine caroms off the backboard.”

I’m mostly just an outdoor writer these days, specifically an outdoor writer of the traditional hook-and-bullet type. There are other varieties, such as X Games, extreme sports types, but I’m a card-carrying member of the old school outdoor writers guild.

The members of my peer group use a few odd phrases as well. Some, like caroms, are past their “sell by” date.

Quarry — Often used for any game species the writer is pursuing. Example: “The ruffed grouse is elusive quarry. Only nimrods with the finest scattershot skills, teamed with well-trained bird dogs, can expect to harvest the bounty of the forest.”

Unless you’re writing magazine copy for beer company ads in the 1950s, quarry is best reserved for places where you mine rocks.

Nimrod — This one makes me chuckle since, when I first heard it, I assumed in meant dumb hunter, not just hunters in general. Webster’s says it can also refer to an idiot or jerk, so I suppose I wasn’t far off. Still, if you’re not using nimrod ironically, it’s best not used at all.

And if you think dumb hunter is redundant, we can’t be friends.

Scattershot — For shotguns, and yes it is an accurate description, but readers under 50 are going to look at you funny.

Harvest — For a variety of reasons outdoor writers sometimes shy away from the word kill. “I harvested a big buck,” sounds faintly noble, while, “I killed a big buck” strikes some as a little crass. Get over it. Hunters kill animals. Then they eat them. Euphemisms can’t change that, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, anyway.

Bounty — You know, the “bounty of the county,” or, “The bounty of the chukar grounds is unmatched for scattershot hunters seeking fine table fare.” Instead, go with, “There are chukars on that near vertical slope. I’m going to go kill a few, or more likely myself, trying.”

Table fare — As in, “Burbot may not be much to look at, but filleted and grilled they make fine table fare.” If a fish tastes good, say so. Don’t put on airs.

Donned — Back in the mid-90’s the newspaper where I worked received a letter complaining about a crew at a nearby wildlife refuge. The crew was spraying noxious weeds, and the letter writer complained the crew had encroached too closely without shutting down the sprayer. She wrote, “I donned my mask, the universally recognized symbol of the chemically sensitive, but they kept spraying anyway.” 

I’m pretty sure mask wearing has never had a universally recognized meaning, be it for the chemically sensitive or otherwise. These days it either means you are an easily controlled sheep, or an anti-social deviant intent on spreading viruses throughout your community.

Wherever one stands on the mask-tolerance spectrum, I think we’re all looking forward to putting them away for good. Soon, I hope.

Anyway, if you find yourself writing, “It was a bracing, cold morning, so I donned my neoprene waders and trudged out to the duck blind,” don’t. Put on your waders or jackets or caps. Don’t don them. 

You look silly enough wearing neoprene waders. You don’t need to sound silly too.

Rob Breeding writes and blogs at www.mthookandbullet.com.

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