Coming To Terms

BACK IN THE 1950s, when I was about 10 years old, my idol was Jason Lucas, Fishing Editor for Sports Afield magazine. I savored every word he wrote, and every word he wrote was law. Not only was he the greatest fisherman in the world (in my opinion, and probably in his own, too), but he was also a dogmatic authority on words and terms. For example, any imbecile should know that pike are NOT northern pike. They are pike. And to call walleyes walleyed pike? Shame! They are walleyes. Period. A person who pursues fish with rod and reel is NOT a fisherman but an angler. Most important of all, a fishing rod is NOT a pole. A pole is a long, one-piece stick. It has no line guides, and you tie the line to the end of a pole. A tool equipped with line guides and a reel is a ROD. NEVER call a rod a pole.

Whether Jason was absolutely correct in all of his assessments, I do not know. But I do know he had strong opinions, he stated those opinions freely, and every word he wrote was law. Jason Lucas had a strong and lasting influence on the impressionable mind of a young boy.

Maybe that partially explains why I have strong opinions about the use of words. As I read some 800 manuscripts submitted each year to Bowhunter and edit roughly 150 features and columns for the magazine, I have plenty of opportunity to see words used and abused. Maybe I'm not right in all of my assessments, but like my boyhood idol Jason Lucas, I do have my strong opinions, and for whatever they're worth, I will state some of them here.

Let's start with the verb "to film." With all the video cameras in the field these days, cameramen often say they "filmed" a hunt. I suppose that verb could be used in a general sense, as it is in Mexico, where people use the verb filmar to mean "to take pictures" or "to shoot a camera." In reality, however, you cannot film anything with a video camera because, by very definition, video cameras contain no film. Film consists of a celluloid strip backed with a silver formula that changes composition in response to light. Video cameras record images on tape or on some form of solid memory. Thus, with a video camera, you can record, tape, or videotape a hunt, but you cannot film a hunt.

Some writers and hunters use the words "antlers" and "horns" interchangeably. For example, writers commonly say they shot a deer with "really nice horns." We all know what they mean, but such statements are not correct because, physiologically, antlers and horns are different structures. Antlers essentially are made of bone, and horns are made of hair. Deer and closely related animals -- elk, moose, caribou -- shed their antlers each winter and re-grow them in the spring and summer. Animals with horns -- goats, sheep, bison, muskoxen -- do not shed their horns. The horns are permanent and grow progressively larger each year until the demise of the animal. (Pronghorns annually shed the horn sheath and re-grow the sheath around a permanent core.)

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You commonly read that a bowhunter had a "chip shot" on a deer, meaning he had an easy shot he should never miss. I'm no expert on golf -- I don't play golf -- but in watching a little golf on TV, I have concluded that a chip shot is rarely easy. Webster defines chip shot as "a short, lofted golf stroke, used in approaching the green." It seems to me that most chip shots are relatively difficult, and rarely do chip shots go into the cup. If a bowhunter has an easy shot and wants to describe it with a golf term, he probably should say he had a "tap in." That's the term that best describes a can't-miss shot.

Hunters search for all kinds of ways to describe their emotions as they prepare to shoot at trophy animals, and one of the most common is to say, "My heart went into overdrive." Again, this is one of those clichés that makes no sense. Overdrive is a high gear in a car that actually slows down the engine to improve fuel mileage. Sure, the car is traveling at a high rate of speed, but the engine runs at lower RPMs. To me, then, a heart that goes into overdrive slows down. If a writer means his heart started pounding faster, he probably should say his heart went into compound low.

Another common expression that mystifies me is, "The deer was walking parallel with my treestand." How can an animal walk parallel with a single point? I suppose he could be circling the tree, never getting closer or farther away. But that's never what the writer means. He means the animal was walking by in a straight line. However, that's not parallel, because the deer gets closer and then farther away. Parallel means the distance remains the same.

In the greater scheme of life, this might not be weighty stuff, but someone has to think about such things, and, as an editor, that's what I do. Perhaps it all started with Jason Lucas, who indoctrinated me on the ways of fishing and words. Maybe my idolization of Jason Lucas explains my strong opinions about words. Without question, it explains why I NEVER call a fishing rod a pole.

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