I didn’t expect the Leafs to win last night. It was a mid-week game against an opponent from the Southeast (which now includes Winnipeg, apparently) and these have long been the situations in which the Leafs tend to go for a sixty-minute nap. Last night, however, Phil Kessel continued to channel his inner Mike Bossy (as opposed to his inner Mike Craig, who shows up from time to time), racking up another three points.
I’m enjoying this little run he and the team are on. I’m astounded that they have nine of a possible ten points, particularly since each game has included one period in which they look absolutely awful and other than Kessel, who has been part of over 70% of the Leafs offense, very few people are scoring.
If you notice, in the above paragraph I refer to the Leafs as “they.” This is because there is now some distance between the game that was played and the present moment and I am reflecting on the team as an entity external to myself. Last night, while the game was on and I was more in the moment, I would have said “we” – as in “Who is on the power play?” “We are.” “Who is losing to a Jets team that should be more easily handled?” “We are.” (When the Leafs are playing really stinky hockey, I might have said “they,” as in “Gads, they’re losing again.”)
“We” in that sense is both a convenient shorthand (it allows the other team to be “they,” which is useful) and an expression of involvement. It is an expression of “the team that we (the people on this side of the TV screen) choose to support,” or “the team that represents the city/region/country of which we (the people in the conversation) are a part.”
That is part of the beauty of language. A word such as “we” can mean different things depending on the context in which it is used. There are differing degrees of inclusion and people tend to figure this out instinctively. If I tell my daughter, “We are going to your swimming lesson,” she knows immediately that “we” includes the two of us. If I tell her “We are having dinner,” she knows that I am referring to the whole family. If I tell her, “We’re killing a penalty,” she knows that she doesn’t need to ask whether she should cover the point or take the man in front, because I’m clearly referring to some people on TV. She understands the context because she’s not an imbecile.
(Conversely, if the Queen tells you, “We are not amused,” she’s really not that interested in your opinion on the matter. That’s not really an inclusive we.)
This level of ambiguity is apparently too much for Chris Jones at Grantland, who wrote a particularly pointless piece detailing the manner in which the people on TV really aren’t “we” and how stupid we (those of us who choose to refer to teams in this manner) are for our choices of personal pronouns (this tells you something about how much they (the writers at Grantland) really have to say).
It surprises me that a writer, who one would think would generally appreciate the richness and subtleties of language, would have so little appreciation for the manner in which people actually use it. Next week, I imagine he’ll have a hard-hitting expose on metaphors, those insidious misrepresenters of objective reality.
I’ll preempt the conclusion – that defenseman you don’t like? He isn’t really a pylon. It’s just a figure of speech. But we all knew that.