I am taking a couple of weeks off and am happy to present tastings by some of the avid word tasters who regularly read my word tasting notes. Today’s tasting is by Laurie Miller.
The Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup in this century, the NHL season shouldn’t be dragging on into June, and this word tastes wrong for the game.
Hockey. The game is a fast, swooping, rushing thing; but none of that shows up in the word hockey. Oh, there is a bit of cleverness in the way the terminal letters mirror each other, an ascender and a descender at either end with the rest of the word in between, but that doesn’t begin to suggest the rapid-fire reflex thinking that the game requires. And the annular o does look in most fonts like a puck on its side — but the weight of its sound is more likely to slow you down than to speed you up in experiencing the word, and a puck on its side is the one most likely to confound both shooters and goalie; all players approach one with extra consideration. The effort required to say the word does feel a bit like the tensing of one’s body to give or to take a hit — but, on the whole, the word doesn’t feel like the game.
Swish. Now, that word’s flavour would be more appropriate, hinting at things rushing through air, or skates gliding on ice; but that word is strongly identified with basketball.
Click would have some merit as a name for the game. Its abruptness suggests the speeds involved, and the nearly non-verbal deftness of its complexity in the mouth does feel a bit like that preternatural sensation of finding that your goalie trapper, say, has already begun moving on a trajectory that may intersect with that of a slap shot that you have only just begun consciously to recognize — but click is not the name that we have inherited.
No, hockey is what it is, all tied up with the rustic connotations of its antecedents. Stolid English farmers have put their “hocks” or “hockey-sticks” to various good uses for centuries. The solid romanesque arches of hockey’s curved letters are not nearly so appropriate here as they are in, say, rugby’s “scrum,” but, admittedly, power is part of hockey, too, and “hockey” must suffice.