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Tongue-displays again

December 4, 2019

Take a look at this unseemly gurning by the Liverpool player Van Dijk, holding up the Champions League trophy earlier this year. Ghastly, isn’t it? I have written about the tongue-display before; although it might not seem to fall directly within my remit as I write about language, well, it is about tongues, and it is about communication. Besides, it’s a phenomenon that just won’t go away and I feel I have to keep addressing it.

The tongue-display now seems to be the celebration of choice for triumphant sportsmen. I have previously identified the footballers Gareth Bale and Wilfred Zaha as culprits, as well as the cyclist Albert Contador. Why do they do it? When I was young poking one’s tongue out was a deliberately rude gesture. Only children did it. And I think something of that meaning remains: it is supposed to look rude – not personally rude, but indicating a general disregard or defiance of polite convention; and it is supposed to look childish, too, a display of gleeful, unmoderated animal spirits. There is a definite look-at-me-ism about it. Bizarre though it seems, the tongue-exhibitionists think it looks good – free, uninhibited, proud, triumphant, victorious, in a position where one does not have to give a bugger about what the public thinks, yet paradoxically wanting to advertise that fact to the public.

Of course, in reality they simply look like buffoons – and imitative buffoons, too, since they’re all at it now. (The men, that is; I have not seen any female athletes do this.) It’s hard to believe that years ago, when whoever was the first victorious athlete to do this did it, they must have been witnessed by hundreds of younger, aspirant sportsmen who thought, ‘Hey that’s a good look, that’s exactly what I’m going to do when I score a goal or win something!’ – yet that is pretty much what must have happened.

So far it does not seem to have been remarked upon, except by me. Could we all start to draw attention to it? Maybe we could ridicule it out of existence.

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  1. Mark Brafield permalink

    Thoroughly agree. It reminds me of an entry in Alan Bennett’s Diaries where he is watching the show-jumping and is horrified to see one of the rider’s punch the air after a successful round. ‘It will be croquet next’ he wearily concludes.

  2. Sticking the tongue out in this way is part of the Haka as performed by the New Zealand rugby team ahead of matches. I wonder if, subconsciously, the offenders are making a connection with what they have seen there..?

  3. Yes – that’s a possibility I overlooked when I wrote the piece! Thanks.

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