Dept. of Word Lists

Will the Super Bowl Be an Annihilation?

The Super Bowl is set: the Atlanta Falcons will play the New England Patriots on February 5. But will it be a good game?

Many Super Bowls have been classics: tight games decided at the last minute by a field goal, a glorious tackle, an otherworldly catch, or some other immortal play that lives forever on ESPN.

Other Super Bowls are, to put it mega-mildly, not competitive. Lots of times, despite the reasonable idea that the best team in the AFC vs. the best team in the NFC should result in a close, or at least decent, game, the result is a blowout. In 2014, Seattle annihilated Denver 43-8. In 1993, Dallas decimated Buffalo 52-17. In the very first Super Bowl, back in 1967, Green Bay drubbed Kansas City 36-10.

In these cases, the language used to describe the game is a lot more exciting than the game. In our Super Bowl Blowout word list and the following paragraphs, you'll find a few terms to use if the big game turns out to be, as Ben Grimm would say, clobberin' time.

This is one of those words that can cause arguments so heated they make a close Super Bowl seem like a pillow fight. These days, if you say something has been decimated, most people will understand that you mean something or other has been demolished or destroyed. However, the original meaning of this word was more specific: to reduce by a tenth. In fact, the original grim sense meant to kill one out of every ten folks guilty of a military crime such as desertion. The more general, non-numerical sense isn't exactly newfangled: it's been used since 1660, but some people have really strong feelings about words sticking to their original meanings. So use this word at your own risk. Whichever meaning you intend, someone may wish to decimate you.

This word has been around since the 1500s, long before bowls were super, and it comes from the French annihil. This is a very strong word, meaning not only the destruction of something or someone, but the total, complete, 100% guaranteed destruction. If a team wins by 35 to 21, that’s a comfortable win, but not an annihilation. If the score is something along the lines of 49-3, then this word is appropriate, as is blowout.

The sibling of blowout, this word emerged in the far more gentlemanly sport of baseball: if a pitcher allows no runs, they've pitched a shutout. That meaning's been around since the 1880s, and the word later spread to other sports, including football. You can say a game in which one team doesn't score at all is shutout, and you can say the winning team shut-out the losers. In a serious insult to the waterfowl community, that unwanted zero is often referred to as a goose egg.

The original meaning of drub was to beat someone with a stick, and the Oxford English Dictionary's definition includes other violent words such as cudgel, flog, thrash, and thump. One team hasn't drubbed another team just by beating them: the result has to be a brutal beating, especially on the scoreboard.

Words are in a constant state of change: some become trendy, some get lost, and many soften over time. Massacre is one of those words that's broadened since first popping up in the 1500s. Originally, to massacre was to kill many people, and the term still has that meaning, often in reference to gun massacres. But in the 20th century, this word gravitated toward other one-sided actions, including sports. A Washington Post article from 1940 shows how perfect this word is for the war-like game of football: "The Chicago Bears massacred the Washington Redskins, 73–0, yesterday." In an amusing turn of lexical events, before massacre shifted to sports, it took a detour to the world of music, becoming a word choice of folks who give concerts, let us say, bad reviews. Back in 1880, John Ruskin wrote in Arrows of the Chance that he "heard William Tell entirely massacred at the great opera house." Ouchie.

The origin of this term is unknown, but it first emerged during World War II, and a clobbering sometimes referred to a bombing raid. Whether the circumstances involve war, football, or an argument, the party who gets clobbered has suffered a serious thrashing.

This term isn't often used to describe a major massacre in football, but it should be, I reckon. Like drub, thwack originally referred to hitting someone with a stick, and the word broadened to include other types of one-sided assaults. This word was good enough for Shakespeare, who used it in Coriolanus: "Here's he that was wont to thwacke our Generall, Caius Martius."

When something has been squashed, it hasn't been erased from existence, as in an annihilation. Rather, a literal squash or squashing involves something being smashed flat or crushed: if you step on a basketball or football, pushing all the air out of it, until the ball is a sad, thin piece of uninflated leather, you squashed it. The odor of defeat surrounding this word makes it an apt one for describing football games that take all the air out of the other team and their fans.

Remember — there's so much more to game day than football, food and commercials. There's a whole slew of really fun words to learn. Boost your word power with our list: Super Bowl Blowout: Dull Game, Epic Vocabulary!

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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday February 1st 2017, 5:30 AM
Comment by: Nalini R. (India)
It's very useful 2 me
Tuesday February 14th 2017, 3:59 PM
Comment by: Juwan Parker
The game was... good.

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