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The CBC commentator Byron MacDonald said the following after a Chinese swimmer started out very fast and inevitably slowed down during sprint (the whole story):

The little 14-year-old from China dropped the ball, baby. Too excited, went out like stink, died like a pig. Thanks for that.

Many native speakers argue that it is quite normal for a sports commentator to say that. Is it offensive in any way?

To be specific, I have no problem interpreting "die" as slow down, but do "like stink" and "like a pig" have negative connotations? Or do they simply mean very rapid and very slow?

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    This BBC article discusses sexism in commentary. It discusses many instances of mostly unconscious sexism and the use of stock phrases that are quietly demeaning (I believe there's also a website called "everyday sexism" that discusses this kind of thing); anyway the point is that if the commentator uses these absurd metaphors equally to describe all nations or races then fair enough, but if it turns out he tends to use them disproportionately to describe the Chinese athletes then he may have a problem, whether he realises it or not. – Mr_Thyroid Aug 13 '16 at 10:29
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    @Drew - I think this is one of the better questions posted on ELU for some time. I finally had to use my brain, do some research, and got to learn something. If this isn't about Word choice and usage, I don't know what is. – J.R. Aug 13 '16 at 23:14
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    @Drew - I initially thought the remarks were offensive, but, after reading through the answers, I've concluded it was more of an unfortunate choice of words. How did I come to that conclusion? By learning more about past usages of these phrases in this context. I think MετάEd is onto something when saying that two answers here answer the question rather well together. I'm also noticing a trend: answers that are knee-jerk opinions are being downvoted, answers with cited references are being upvoted. Anyhow, you've made your case; at this point in time, it's 23 upvotes vs. 1 closevote. – J.R. Aug 14 '16 at 1:42
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    @J.R.: You don't seem to be getting the point of POB. It's not about whether you thought or think that it is an offensive phrase or is not. It's about the question, which asks whether the phrase is offensive. I think it's pretty clear from both the comments and answers that the question has ended up being just what it sounds like: primarily opinion-based. Whether someone who finds it offensive (or inoffensive) is highly informed as to the "real" meaning of the phrases is essentially unimportant to the fact of answers likely being opinion-based. – Drew Aug 14 '16 at 1:48
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    @Drew WTH is "POB"? Maybe I agree with you, but I can't tell because your TLA is too cryptic. – Agent_L Aug 15 '16 at 8:13
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As a competitive swimmer from southern Ontario, Canada, in the 1970's and 1980's, and a master's runner and triathlete in the 1990's I'm quite familiar with the phrase 'die like a pig' though not with its etymology.

Dying at the end of a race means slowing down from painful exhaustion in a way that can't be countered by will power. To die 'badly' intensifies the indication of the drop in speed and pain felt by the athlete. To die 'like a pig' is the superlative for dying in a race, and is in frequent use. ('To hit the wall' has a similar meaning but focuses on the suddenness of the problems.)

The reference is entirely to how significantly performance declines and has no correlation to the physique or ethnicity of the athlete so far as I know though etymological research may clarify that. If I had to guess I would say that pigs appear to be out of shape and overweight and unable to sustain prolonged effort.

I've occasionally interacted with Byron MacDonald over the years and I've heard him use 'like stink' before. No one else in my acquaintance does. I thought it was his own idiosyncratic coinage, but perhaps it stems from when he grew up in the USA since it is listed in dictionaries with non-perjorative meanings.

I think overall the statements were a colourful description of what happened. They imply a sharp critique of the swimmer for making a bad mistake of going out way too fast due to inexperience and turning in a poor race as a result. I don't see them as racially charged or otherwise offensive or derogatory. So Byron's and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's subsequent apology were okay and not craven, but not necessarily required in my view.

  • Would this be a common alternative expression: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitting_the_wall – user662852 Aug 12 '16 at 0:29
  • Yes, but that expression focuses on the suddenness. – Joe Murray Aug 12 '16 at 0:39
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    Anecdotally, my dad (Canadian) uses the phrase "like stink" for "really fast" all the time. – Matthew Read Aug 12 '16 at 15:19
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    "If I had to guess" -- I think it's that pigs literally die (i.e. are slaughtered, for food), so they're brought in to intensify the metaphorical dying of athletes. But I'm guessing too. In principle any food animal could be chosen for the expression, if that's what it is, but the fact is pigs are what customarily is chosen. Nobody says, "I went out too fast and died like an elegant gazelle set upon by lions" ;-) – Steve Jessop Aug 13 '16 at 23:13
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I think most (Chinese) viewers mainly took issue with how the phrase "died like a pig" was translated (as it was taken literally --> "像死猪一样"). While I agree that it is certainly unprofessional to use such slang in an international event like the Olympics, I don't believe it was racist or meant to be highly offensive. Swimmers in Canada often use the phrase "died like a pig" to describe their own lackluster performance (see below).

“I went out for it and died like a pig,” said McAllister. “I was as trying to go fast and I just paid for it.” http://sirc.ca/news/sarah-mehain-wins-bronze-three-canadian-records-fall-ipc-world-championships

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    I think you and JEL have the answer between the two of you. – MetaEd Aug 11 '16 at 19:39
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    I'm getting the impression that this phrase is perhaps commonly used in competitive swimming. If my hunch is right, then MacDonald's mistake was not using an insulting phrase – he probably meant it respectfully, in a swimmer-to-swimmer sense. However, he unfortunately used a phrase that could easily be perceived as insulting, given the large percentage of viewers who are unfamiliar with poolside jargon. – J.R. Aug 11 '16 at 20:48
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    @J.R. The answer from Joe Murray confirms this impression. The fact that this phrase is a term of art (i.e. a specialized term in competitive swimming) is very important in understanding this situation. english.stackexchange.com/a/342350/70886 – Tom Church Aug 11 '16 at 23:37
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    Watch swimmers who are collapsing at the end of a long race, and they will be seen to "wallow", rolling back and forth rather than making forward progression. This is the origin of the term "die like a pig", as pigs are commonly said to wallow: "(chiefly of large mammals) roll about or lie relaxed in mud or water, especially to keep cool, avoid biting insects, or spread scent.". It is a swimming term rather than a specific Canadian term. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 12 '16 at 1:58
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    Although not in currency when I swam competitively some decades ago, my instinctive reaction (having been there myself more than once) was immediately one of sympathy. Far from being a derogatory term it is one of sympathy, as all swimmers have been there and understand how much it hurts, physically and mentally. It is unfortunate that it translates so poorly into Chinese due to not so distant Communist-Capitalist propaganda usage. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 12 '16 at 2:03
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Neither 'like stink' nor 'die like a pig' are necessarily insulting in use with reference to persons, although dying like a pig is clearly something to be avoided.

The first, 'like stink', is a common colloquial idiom with sufficient longevity to appear in two McGraw-Hill sources (see below) as well as OED Online:

*like stink Inf. rapidly. (As fast as a smell spreads. *Typically: go ~; move ~; run ~; swim ~.) Those kids moved through the whole test like stink. Real eager-beavers. The wood chipper went through the brush like stink and turned it into a small pile in minutes.

(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. S.v. "like stink." [2002] Retrieved August 11 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/like+stink. A similar entry appears in McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions [2006].)

Note that the examples presented in the McGraw-Hill sources are neutral, at worst, and positive otherwise. The neutral-to-positive sense range is corroborated by the OED Online attestations:

b. like stink, furiously, intensely. Cf. like adj., adv., conj., and prep. colloq.
1929 R. C. Sherriff Journey's End I. 40 If you see a Minnie coming..you have to judge it and run like stink sometimes.
1938 M. Allingham Fashion in Shrouds xv. 240 It's raining like stink.
1945 ‘P. Woodruff’ Call Next Witness ii. v. 114 He clapped in his heels and rode like stink.
1955 M. Allingham Beckoning Lady iii. 40 The telephone's here..and when it rings you have to run like stink before the caller gives up.
1972 D. Devine Three Green Bottles 11 She wasn't really clever, she just worked like stink.

["stink, n.". OED Online. June 2016. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/190407?redirectedFrom=like+stink (accessed August 11, 2016).]

The second, 'die like a pig', is a tougher nut to crack. It also is a common idiom, but doesn't appear in standard lexical sources. The colloquial idiom does, however, appear frequently in, for example, song lyrics. The sense of the expression ranges from 'to die stubbornly, reluctantly, while engaged in futile resistance' through 'to die by being slaughtered'. It's negative in that dying is not desirable, yet dying reluctantly, or being slaughtered, may be unavoidable in some circumstances.

As an expression of the facts of a case, 'to die like a pig' need not be personally insulting. The use by the sportscaster was such an expression. The choice of 'pig', however, was unfortunate; 'pig', while not necessarily insulting, is in isolation (that is, sans phrasal context) most frequently used insultingly when used with reference to persons. Likewise, but to a lesser degree, 'stink', although the phrasal context and history of use of the phrase strongly indicate that 'stink' in the sportscaster's use is admiring, rather than insulting.

  • I think you and user190840 have the answer between the two of you. – MetaEd Aug 11 '16 at 19:39
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    Native AmE speaker here. I've never heard or read the idiom "like stink" before. I notice the examples you have given are all BrE authors. Is this mostly a BrE idiom then? – shoover Aug 11 '16 at 20:57
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    As a native British citizen, its not even uniform in usage across Britain, the first time i heard it used i was quite confused about its meaning. – Trotski94 Aug 12 '16 at 9:49
  • @shoover, Why ignore the American in the two McGraw-Hill sources? – JEL Aug 15 '16 at 9:30
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Swimming like stink, means swimming with full intensity.

Two historical examples:

For 1935: The Scottish Bookman

There were also a few (minor) difficulties such as (c) nobody had thought to weigh anchors, and (d) any able- bodied seaman who might conceivably have had a hand in the said weighing was already over the far side and swimming like stink.

From 1944: Close to the Sun: The Story of the Sudan Squadron, Royal Air Force

The enemy aircraft landed in the water and the crew got out their dinghy, but as Troke said afterwards, "When we left Adolph and his two buddies down there in the water they were swimming like stink away from the dinghy — afraid of being strafed, I expect".

A very analogous use of "died like a pig" is: (1998) In Pursuit of the Big Horse

Zopilote came out of the gate like a bullet and died like a pig at the half mile marker

And in a swimming context: (1991) Swimming World and Junior Swimmer

Come finals, Stewart's strategy was to take it out fast. "I wanted to put him out of his comfort zone," Stewart said. "I knew that in doing that I would die, but I knew that he would die worse. I thought I died like a pig, but the game plan worked.

And in the 9 April 1981 New York Times article BACKSTROKE TO MISS CAULKINS, Tony Corbisiero is quoted as saying:

I swam a dumb race then and died like a pig. I swam a little smarter tonight.

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    "is a compliment" -- well, in this context it's still a criticism, since he's saying she went unwisely fast. But it's a criticism of her strategy, not in any sense of her personal hygiene. "Went out very fast" would make the same criticism even though "very fast" normally would be a compliment when used to describe a racer! – Steve Jessop Aug 13 '16 at 23:07
  • You're right, maybe I should rephrase that – DavePhD Aug 13 '16 at 23:23
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    @SteveJessop Sure... although no more intentionally negative than "Had a great start but didn't follow through", which is still a criticism. A compliment can still be a criticism (criticism can include an analysis of things done well). – Jason C Aug 14 '16 at 18:13
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Sports commentators, as a profession, are known for their memorable and creative use of phrases and idioms. That of course involves using well known idioms, but also might involve adapting, combining, or outright making up their own. (See Harry Caray, for example.)

Obviously in this case the intent is clear: the swimmer started too strong, but was unable to keep pace and slowed down toward the end.

I'm an American English speaker, and recognize "dropped the ball", but hadn't previously heard "went out like a stink" or "died like a pig". These might be common idioms in Canada.

As for whether they are offensive, I don't think so. "Stink" and "pig" can be used as insults in some contexts, but they don't appear to be used that way here. They're used in other neutral idioms, like "pig in a poke", without any insulting connotation.

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    It's just like stink ( = fast and furious), not like a stink. – FumbleFingers Aug 11 '16 at 16:49
  • In short, "I don't know these idioms and in my opinion they were not used as insults." We appreciate the desire to help but we're looking for definite answers that show why they are right, ideally with citations. Unsupported answers may be removed. (more¹) (more²) – MetaEd Aug 11 '16 at 19:30
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It's not offensive at all.. it's Canadian slang. "she dropped the ball, baby" means she did something unwise. "Too excited, went out like stink" means she got too excited .. she started hard and fast". "Died like a pig" means she ran out of energy. No offense was meant.

  • I think by insulting is meant by offensive. And it is certainly insulting. – Aeon Akechi Aug 11 '16 at 17:34
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    We appreciate the desire to help, but please consider either expanding your answer or deleting it. We're looking for long answers that provide explanation and context. Explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Unsupported answers may be removed. (more¹) (more²) – MetaEd Aug 11 '16 at 19:26
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The selection of words had unfortunate consequences.

Reading through this page, there seems to be a mixture of people who knew what the phrases meant. Some people hadn't heard the terms before, but seem quite forgiving when they learn that the phrases may be common swimmer's jargon.

However, since the comments were made when showing the Olympics, presumably many people from the general population would have heard those comments. There is no reason to believe that the recipients, who hear the comments, were already familiar with the terms. One of the basic tenants of understanding communication is that people receiving the communication may interpret things differently than the people who send the communication.

went out like stink,

stink is generally a word that has a negative connotation.

died

death is usually related to unpleasant experiences or thoughts

like a pig.

Pigs are well known for using mud to cool themselves, resulting in them being very dirty. This isn't even mentioning the religious aspect that lead some people to not want to eat pig meat, or have close association with such symbolically "unclean" animals. Pigs are also often viewed as fat, and eating in a messy way. (e.g., messy eaters may be "eating like a pig".) Calling a person a pig is generally an insult. The word "hog" also tends to be not very nice (suggesting greed).

One particular reason why these terms may seem extra powerful is that people think of pigs as dirty animals, so they may think the term "stink" and "pig" were intentionally matched together to reinforce the imagery of a hog

It seems that careful analysis is suggesting the comments likely had no malicious intent. However, despite that, it is not surprising that many people would have misinterpreted the comments. Therefore, the commentary did seem to be spoken without being very careful. For that reason, there seems to be some basis for thinking that the speaker was being inconsiderate and careless, which are characteristics that often lead to being insulting (whether intentional or not).

  • I think this was a comment not intended for broadcast. He hadn't said anything for a while, and the TV picture was just the empty pool. I think he assumed CBC had gone back to the broadcast centre and swimming coverage was over. His normal commentary is not normally so casual. The "dropped the ball, baby" is the biggest clue that this was a comment intended only for his co-commentator. His commentary before the incident was always respectful when talking about athletes that put in poor performances. (i.e. he didn't just become more professional after being busted). – Peter Cordes Aug 15 '16 at 3:20
  • Also, some of the news reports about the comment have called it an open-mic incident. This is one that does so most clearly. Even wording of the apology "We apologize the comment on a swim performance made it to air...." suggests that it might not have made it to air, which wouldn't make sense if it was intentionally said for live broadcast. – Peter Cordes Aug 15 '16 at 3:22
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It is most definitely not an unfortunate choice of words.

The person using these words is a professional sports commentator. He knows exactly what words he chooses for what purpose. There are plenty of answers explaining eloquently how what he says isn't insulting at all, but even a complement.

It is quite obvious that he fully intended to use the words "stink", "dying" and "pig" to describe a fourteen year old Chinese girl, while claiming plausible deniability. Had he intended to comment on her race, there would have been plenty of ways to do that without using the words "stink", "dying" and "pig".

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    The speaker is a former competitive swimmer, not a professional journalist. He's brought into the booth for his subject matter expertise. I think he put his foot in his mouth, but I don't think any disrespect was intended. After reading through these other answers, I believe he used the terms to describe the swimmer's performance, not the swimmer herself. – J.R. Aug 12 '16 at 20:37

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