Tuesday, February 6th, 2018...16:32

The Language of Hockey

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Nathaniel Wingerak

The typical appearance of the hockey-talk speaking demographic. Image: CraveTV, “Letterkenny | One Team,” screenshot from YouTube clip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEJ6XU4Fyg0

While sitting on the team bus during a three-hour road trip to Wilcox, amidst the expletives and insults I hear someone yell out the ridiculous phrase “Hey sauce me my sandy!” A teammate then proceeds to hand him his sandwich. This type of chatter was everywhere in hockey; on the road, in the dressing room, on the ice, at team gatherings, this lingo was omnipresent throughout the realm of hockey. In my past experiences with hockey I’ve witnessed extensive use of this language variety that I’ll hereby refer to as “Hockey-Talk”.

Hockey-talk has evolved from a few slang terms to an entire jargon, one that is used universally by hockey players in the context of the sport. A Jargon is a dialect or terminology used by members of a specific occupation or activity. Hockey-talk is a perplexing form of jargon in the English language as it seems to be composed of a random selection of normal English words, which are then used in describing events and objects that are commonly associated with hockey. The jargon found in hockey ranges from normal English nouns which have been converted for new uses, to entirely new words that have been created through varying linguistic processes such as blending and suffixing.

Probably the most common (and most cliché) hockey-talk phrases is “ferda”. Ferda is a shortened form of the phrase “for the boys/girls” which is commonly used in hockey jargon in reference to a good teammate or to an action by a teammate that is beneficial to the team. A common use of the word is as acknowledgment or congratulations: “That was Ferda!” Ferda is formed by a word formation process referred to as blending where the words “for” and “the” are blended together to create a new word, one that has been a staple of hockey-talk. Ferda has changed in recent years to be used more ironically and less in earnest hockey discourse, seemingly as a reaction to its becoming more widespread.

One of the most common processes for word formation in hockey-talk is suffixing, especially adding of the suffix “–y” or “–ey” to a shortened form of a variety of English words. Some common words formed by suffixing in this lingo are “tilly” (from the English “tilt”; meaning “fight”), “celly” (from the English “celebrate”), “hatty” (from the English “hat-trick”, referring to a player scoring three goals in one game and the fans throwing hats onto the ice), and “toey” (from the English “toe-drag”; where a player drags the puck towards them with the tip of their stick’s blade). It seems that hockey players will attach a <y> to any word or name, a phenomenon that has recently began to be tracked by TSN’s “NHL Nick Names-ey” which counts the amount of times the “–ey” suffix is used on player names during coach interviews.

In addition to blending and suffixing, hockey-talk has also created a large amount of its vocabulary by simple conversion of normal English terms. Hockey players have adopted a multitude of seemingly random words and converted their use to refer to very specific hockey events and objects. One such term is “cheddar” which is obviously just a type of cheese to most normal English speakers, but in the context of hockey it is used to refer to the upper part of the goal; it is also often called “top cheddar”. Another term which has a unique meaning in hockey-talk is “sauce”; in use by hockey players sauce refers to the act of passing a puck to a player by making it float into the air before landing slightly in front of a teammate’s stick (also called a saucer pass). I personally cannot imagine how these words entered into the jargon that is hockey-talk, and I’m sure that you would be hard pressed to link their usage to any reason.

Hockey lingo also has a strangely vast lexicon of terms that refer specifically to a hockey player’s hair; among these are “lettuce”, “salad”, and the most common term “flow”. The word “flow” is a common word in hockey-talk that was adapted to a new meaning by hockey players from its normal English sense. Hockey players use flow to refer to the long mane of hair that so many hockey players adore, likely adopted because of the way the hair flows while they skate down the ice. Hockey-talk also has a unique word that refers to “teeth”; this word is “chiclets”. A hockey player might be described by a teammate as “missing some chiclets” after they are punched and lose their front teeth. Hockey players are known for having long hair and a deficiency in teeth so it makes sense that the jargon would include terms for these specific features.

On the ice the most common feature of hockey-talk is the vulgarity and use of expletives. The hockey world seems to be behind the social world in this aspect; many of the terms used as insults by hockey players have become taboos in normal English but have yet to do the same on the ice. Among other degrading terms, homophobic slurs are still much too present in the realm of hockey. Unfortunately, unlike in normal society a player faces little repercussions for using taboo terms that they would face outside of the rink. This has however begun to change as society has grown towards becoming more socially aware.

What I’ve divulged above probably sounds incredibly strange as individual terms, it actually gets even more baffling when you consider how these terms are used in speech. The TV show Letterkenny presents an exaggerated representation of the use of hockey-talk, but the show still presents many relevant samples of the lingo; one such example is “half clapper top cheddar”. I haven’t personally used this term and I’m not sure I’ve heard it spoken locally but it is nonetheless an apt display of hockey terminology being used in speech. This phrase would be used by a player to refer to a slap shot that was scored into the top area of the goal.

Hockey-talk is a peculiar example of an English jargon, one that is actually pretty universal among hockey players if my past experiences are an accurate representation. The speech community that consists solely of hockey players and hockey personnel uses the English language in ways that are unique in comparison to other English speakers. Since I stopped playing competitive hockey a couple of years ago I have rarely encountered the lingo, except for in interactions with people from my playing days. Hockey-talk is an interesting but unsophisticated variety of the English language, a lingo that differs mostly due to the addition of the “–y” suffix and the random conversion of words to different meanings.

Works Cited

CraveTV. “Letterkenny | One Team.” Screenshot from online video clip. YouTube. Google LLC, 20 December 2016. Web. 09 January 2018.

Liu, Yin. “Describing the History of English.” ENG 290.6 (01) Introduction to English Linguistics and History of English Language. Fall/Winter 2017/2018. University of Saskatchewan Bookstore. Print.

“NHL Nick Names-ey.” TSN. Featuring Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, Bell Media, 2017, https://www.tsn.ca/jay-and-dan/video/nhl-nick-names-ey~1229844.

“Rave.” Letterkenny. Crave TV. Sudbury, Ontario. February 7 2016. Online Television Streaming.

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