"What's it provoke?"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 29 08:13:03 UTC 2010

A couple of bits from the same story. The exchange below concerns a
question one of NFL executives supposedly asked a recruit (Dez Bryant)
before the NFL draft: was his mother a prostitute?

> Kornheiser: "Was this particular question in bounds?"
> Wilbon: "That's not an interview question. That's insulting …
> demeaning. If Dez Bryant had gotten up and turned the desk over on
> this guy, that would have been in bounds. If he had knocked his head
> off, where I come from, that would have been fine. When I talk about
> the NFL arrogance, this is what I'm saying … I'm talking about the
> feeling that you can say anything, do anything, and there are no
> consequences. This disgusts me."
> Kornheiser: "Do you think it's possible … that they would be gauging
> what kind of person Dez Bryant is, that they wanted to see his reaction?"
> Wilbon: "That's a justification that's garbage, if that's their
> justification. Tony, suppose she was. Then what? … So what is it
> getting at to ask that question? What's it provoke?"

My first query is on "What's it provoke?" It's a puzzling structure to
me that I hope some of the resident linguists can elucidate.

Part 2. Just to make it clear that context is everything, Sports
Illustrated eventually published the supposed exchange between the
player and a Miami Dolphins executive:

> Ireland: "What did your father do for a living when you were growing up?"
> Bryant: "My dad was a pimp."
> Ireland: "How did he meet your mom?"
> Bryant: "She worked for my dad."
> Ireland: "Your mom was a prostitute?"
> Bryant: "No, she wasn't a prostitute."

Aside from the obvious, there is an interesting pimp/dichotomy here as
well--apparently it was OK for the kid to say that his father was a
pimp, but definitely not OK to /ask/ if his mother was a prostitute.

Part 3. Going back to the first clip, note the use of "in bounds".

> Kornheiser: "Was this particular question in bounds?"

This seems perfectly ordinary, especially considering /who/ is using the
combination--an ESPN analyst. This is someone who is used to sports
metaphors. There is no entry that I could find for "in-bounds" in the
OED. Other on-line dictionaries fared a bit better.

Macmillan: in basketball, an in-bounds ball or pass is one in which the
ball is thrown back onto the court from outside the playing area
RHUD2010 (Dictionary.com): 1. Sports. being within the boundaries of a
court or field. 2. Basketball. of or pertaining to passing the ball onto
the court from out of bounds. Origin: 1960–65; adj. use of prep. phrase
in bounds
FreeDictionary.org : adj. (Sports) within the demarcated playing area.
Opposite of out of bounds [Narrower terms: {fair (vs. foul) ] [WordNet 1.5]
WordNet 3.0 (also Dictionary.com and FreeDictionary.org): between the
first and third base lines
FarLex TheFreeDictionary.com: adj. 1. (Sports) within the demarcated
playing area. Opposite of out of bounds. [Thesaurus] Adj. 1. in-bounds -
between the first and third base lines
MWOL: adjective Date: 1968 : involving putting a basketball in play by
passing it onto the court from out of bounds

Out-of-bounds is easier:

MWOL (11): adverb or adjective Date: 1798 : outside the prescribed
boundaries or limits
AHD4 (Yahoo and Dictionary.com): ADVERB: Beyond the designated
boundaries or limits.
Wiktionary: beyond designated limits
Encarta: adj./adv. beyond limit: in or indicating a place that is beyond
the established or official boundaries
RHUD1997 (InfoPlease) and RHUD2010 (Dictionary.com): —adj. 1.
Sports.being beyond or passing the limits or boundaries of a field,
course, etc., marking the area within which the ball, puck, or the like
is legally in play. 2. beyond any established boundaries or prescribed
limits; prohibited; forbidden. 3. further than or beyond established
limits, as of behavior or thought.
WordNet 3.0: ADJECTIVE (2) 1. outside the foul lines; 2. barred to a
designated group;- Example: "that area is off-limits" [syn: off-limits,
Collaborative IDE v.0.48 (FreeDictionary.org): 3. Beyond the limits of
the expected standard of taste or propriety; as, an out-of-bounds
remark. [PJC]
FarLex Idioms (TheFreeDictionary.com): 1. Lit. outside the boundaries of
the playing area. (*Typically: be ~; get ~; go ~.) 2. and *off-limits
Fig. forbidden.

OED does not have a separate entry for Out-of-bounds, but it does show
up under bound n.1 2.c.

2.c. pl. The limit or boundary beyond which soldiers, sailors, students,
schoolchildren, etc., resident in a particular building, quarters, or
area, may not pass. Now chiefly in *out of bounds*, outside or beyond
this boundary.
1681 R. KNOX Hist. Ceylon IV. ix. 156 Plain reason would tell him, that
we being prisoners were without our bounds. c1805 Regul. Sherborne
School, Every other part of the town is out of School bounds, except the
Church-Yard. 1857 HUGHES Tom Brown I. ix, The chief offenders..were
flogged and kept in bounds. 1865 Blackw. Mag. Apr. 472/1 The reason of
putting the river out of bounds was the danger incurred by boys who
could not swim. 1890 A. CONAN DOYLE Firm of Girdlestone v. 32 A lad
coming up to an English University..must be within bounds at a fixed
time. 1895 [see OUT OF prep. phr. III]. 1909 D. SLADEN Trag. Pyramids
xiii. 201 The decree of the General, which made the Considines out of
bounds for the Army, like a Mohammedan festival. 1965 M. SPARK
Mandelbaum Gate ii. 43 She got into the car and made him drive out of
school bounds, miles away.

There is an interesting split here. OED only has historical, essentially
literal use. Note the 1857 quote for "in bounds" (plus the 1890 Conan
Doyle cite). But in all these cases, the bounds are literally
"boundaries" and the constructs are based directly on that. None of
these, except for the 1909 Sladen quote and /possibly/ the 1857 one, are
integrated. And none relate to the traditional sports sense--which has
been around for some time. In contrast, most of the on-line dictionaries
include sports use and combine the literal and metaphorical integrated use.

Either way, going back to Korhneiser's question, what he seems to be
asking is whether the question is out-of-bounds, morally unacceptable.
But, because he is so used to sports usage, he changes it to the
apparent antonym, "in-bounds", permissible. Overall, all the
dictionaries seem to be far behind on this one. Given the relatively
standard use of out-of-bounds, it is surprising that it's still limited
in the OED and that no parallel in-bounds has developed until recently.


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