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Exploring a new niche requires a world of jargon

As the longest semester that ever was nears its close, I also near the end of my adventure as an outside observer of the sports world. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my journey, it’s the importance of context.

You might think you don’t like sports — or video games or fashion or whatever — but it might only be because you don’t understand what’s going on in that world.

Each special-interest community comes with its own culture, language, style, traditions, myths, expectations and taboos. In order to belong to a community, you need to understand the entire context of where you are and what it means to be there. And in order to talk to someone from another community, you need to be able to use their vocabulary.

Most people grow up in the worlds they live in now, and cultivating the vocabulary is never a problem. It develops naturally and subconsciously until one day you don’t know how you know which players should be starters and which songs should be singles, but you just know. And it’s almost impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t.

The only way for an outsider to obtain the appropriate vocabulary is full immersion in the world he or she is exploring. The course of a semester — even though it felt freakishly long — is only enough time to dip in a toe.

So, to the inhabitants of Sports World: Thank you for letting me visit your land of strange rules, rituals, words and ways. Sometimes I could relate, and sometimes I felt like an astronaut lost on a distant planet, trying to ask aliens how to get home. Every once in a while I was able to recognize a concept or feeling that was consistent with my world, but there are still scores of spots on the sports map that will always be mysterious to me.

There’s the fandom and enthusiasm part, which I get, and then there’s another part that’s inextricably wrapped up in pride and some mutant form of patriotism, which I don’t get. There’s also the critical focus on maintaining tradition that my world, the land of art and creation, just doesn’t have.

Even though I still don’t understand half of what I see happening in the sports world, I’m grateful to have taken a glimpse at the sort of specialized knowledge it takes to appreciate it.

The knowledge of what people are doing now compared to what people usually do is something we need in order to comprehend the importance of a certain game or movie or book or whatnot. And having that knowledge is what allows some of us to fill out brackets while others fill out Oscar ballots.

There might be somebody out there who has strong opinions on the MAC Championship, the Dolce & Gabbana spring line, Halo 4, the new Twilight movie and the best albums of 2012, but chances are those conversations are all taking place at different lunch tables. It’s OK to not understand someone else’s obsession, as long as you don’t think everyone is crazy or stupid for not understanding yours.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have no idea what I’m talking about, but I also hope there are some who do.

Haylee Pearl is a sophomore studying journalism, a novice sports viewer and a copy editor for The Post. What specialized language do you speak? Email her (in common English) at hp208310@ohiou.edu.

 

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