Football Fields

football_fieldThis is sort of outside my brief as a leading literary blog, but it is sort of a matter of language, and after all I occasionally dabble in matters of mapping.  And it is a complaint, which is my favorite type of post.

Specifically, what is the deal with “football field” becoming a default unit of length.  Just to be clear I’m talking “American Football” here – I don’t know if this is only an American thing, but I suspect in other parts of the world media reports and the like go on about things being “nearly six football pitches long” or whatever (though maybe not since the sizes aren’t so carefully regulated).

There are two problems, as I see it, with the obsessive need to convert every length into football field equivalents.  The first is that an official football field takes up 120 yards (109 m, for readers in other parts of the world) if you include the endzones.  But of course, the whole thing about football is that the zone of play is 100 yards long (0.46 furlongs).  So when someone says that some new fountain is “over two football fields” long, do they mean better than 200 yards (36.36 rods) or over 240 yards (10.9 chains)?

This uncertainty gets progressively fuzzier the longer the distance, which leads to the next problem.  Does it really help anyone visualize a distance anyway?  I can see talking about things in terms of “blocks”, since that is a distance folks actually experience all the time (though of course the problem is the damn things vary in length), but does anyone hear “nearly 43 football fields long” and think “Oh, I get it now”?  And at the other end, are you really clarifying things when you say “200 yards (2 football fields)”?  I mean, if you know how long a football field is in the first place you know it is about 100 yards long because when you watch a game everyone is always talking about yard lines.

And God help you if you are Canadian, and start thinking about about one of those weird 110-yard (55 fathom) fields, or 150 yards (0.85 miles) with the end zones.

Really, if I had a dollar for every time I heard this weird formulation, I’d probably have $2,000.  And to help you visualize that, if I had that in thousand-dollar bills, I’d have two of them.

~ by smwilliams on May 2, 2013.