umpire "mechanic(s)"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Thu Oct 13 17:20:40 UTC 2005

On Thu, 13 Oct 2005 13:07:57 -0400, Laurence Horn wrote:

>>This would seem to fall under OED3's def. B6 of "mechanic" ("a device,
>>method, means"). But in umpiring lingo, "mechanic" has a more specific
>>sense of "a physical and/or verbal signal when making a call".
>I'd guess that this is a back-formation from the already well
>established plural "mechanics", as in "He (player, umpire, whoever)
>needs to work on his mechanics" or "I feel confident that I've
>learned the mechanics."  (Note AHD sense 3:  (used with a plural
>verb) ' The functional and technical aspects of an activity:  The
>mechanics of football are learned with practice."
>The mechanics for the umpiring activity would include, as you note,
>physical and verbal signals for transmitting the call.  Watching
>Eddings live and on tape last night, I'd say he needs to work on his
>a bit.

Yes, I assumed "mechanic" is a back-formation, or rather a reanalysis of
mass-noun "mechanics" as a count noun.

Googling around, I see "mechanic" is also used in football and basketball
officiating, though with apparently differing senses (perhaps generally
meaning "sanctioned motions by a referee on the field of play"?).

(American football)
When he sees that a passing play is unfolding, he moves forward to the
line of scrimmage and stays there--in officialese, that's his mechanic for
a pass play.
(Canadian football)
Therefore according to the mechanic we have used for several years,
possession was given to the team which last had possession, in this case
A final rule change addresses the three-person officiating mechanic.
Beginning in 2004-05, an official who calls a foul will now go tableside
to better communicate with the coach.

--Ben Zimmer

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