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Tongue-displays

April 22, 2019

I have blogged on this subject before, but like many, or most, if not all of the things I blog about it hasn’t gone away. I am talking about tongue-displays. Not strictly a language issue, but it’s body language, so that’s within my bailiwick.

I saw a photo in the paper today of Wilfred Zaha, the Crystal Palace striker, celebrating after scoring the winning goal against Arsenal; and he celebrated by displaying his tongue. I don’t mean he was sticking his tongue out. He was grinning and allowing the tongue to loll down over his lower lip, like a great big floppy pink sea-cucumber. If he was the only player I’d ever seen do this I might have thought he had just been photographed at a bad moment, but in fact lots of sportsmen do it (I haven’t seen a sportswoman do it yet). I’ve noticed Aaron Ramsey at it, for instance, and as I mentioned in my previous post on the matter, Gareth Bale and Arjen Robben are committed tongue-displayers, and so is the cyclist Albert Contador. But why? Why would anyone do this? I assume they haven’t all, by coincidence, decided to do it spontaneously. That is not how language works. New usage spreads by imitation. Some sportsman let his tongue hang out and other sportsmen thought, or unconsciously formulated the notion, that this was a cool thing to do and they wanted to to do it too.

Obviously they were wrong about that. It is not cool. It looks absolutely twattish. Infantile, attention-seeking, gratuitously ugly. But maybe that is the point. The message is, I have achieved such an amazing sporting triumph that I can afford to look like a twat and not worry about it.

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4 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    There is the famous picture of Einstein in a similar pose. Or maybe he’s a fan of the Rolling Stones, or at least their logo.
    As a Palace supporter I can’t say it bothers me what he does if it’s after scoring the winner.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    Yes, agree with all of that Brandon.

    Showing your tongue comes with quite a lot of cultural baggage – it can be an insult (school playground) or it can be a sign of aggression (as in the Maori haka) but by chance I have recently come across two other examples of what it might signify to let your tongue loll out of the side of your mouth.

    The first came from a piece I was reading by Jonathan Miller who was directing Laurence Olivier as King Lear. Miller commented how as a director, it was important not to be star-struck by the great actor and to stand up to him. Acting on this, Miller pointed out to Olivier that he routinely adopted a gesture of rolling his eyes and letting his tongue hang out in order to look – what ? – pathetic, foolish ? Who knows. Anyway, Miller suggested that it had gone beyond a meaningful gesture and had become an overused habit, a cliche, at which point Olivier abandoned the gesture.

    The second example is more homely; two weeks’ ago, for Mother’s Day, I arranged for my wife to receive a card not only from our son (who, being a teenager, would never have thought of getting a card himself), but also from the family dog. I was in a card shop and I saw a funny card ‘to Mum from the family dog’ which showed a crazy cartoon dog bouncing around – with his tongue lolling out. In this context, the dog’s flapping tongue was a sign of crazy joyfulness and entirely delightful, but, as you say, if this sign of animal joy is adopted by humans, it becomes entirely different; stupid, arrogant and, as you so rightly observe, utterly twattish.

  3. Hi Mark – thanks for these observations. Yes, as you say, it’s fine when dogs do it!

    • Mark Brafield permalink

      Yes. And it occurred to me afterwards that one of the symptoms of Down’s Syndrome is (sometimes) a protruding tongue. Perhaps it is our sensitivity to this that makes the gesture seem so offensive when adopted by others.

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