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Thread: Bogus comparison: "As big as a football field"

  1. #1
    A woman said to write like a man. Plot Device's Avatar
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    Bogus comparison: "As big as a football field"

    The following post is one of my pet peeves in life. It involves the effective usage of words in a manner that I feel is underhanded and ultimately deceptive.



    In America, we have a very popular sport caled "football" (not to be confused with that other more globally popular sport that we Americans call "soccer"). And the exact length of an American football field (the playing surface, NOT the end zone and the spectator's bleachers) is one hundred yards. Almost ALL Americans know that one little numeric factoid. It's prudent to point out that the WIDTH of an American football field is not anywhere near as well-known to your typical layman (off hand, I dont know the width myself), but the length is universally known by Americans. The field itself is numerically marked off by yards with the numbers themselves painted/chalked right onto the grass. We have many expressions related to the game and to the yardage that is so clearly measured upon the field. Expressions like:

    "the fifty-yard line"
    "dancing in the end zone"
    "an end-run"

    For anyone not familiar (I kinda doubt that, but ytou never know), here's a drawing of what the field looks like, and YES, the yardage numbers themselves are ALWAYS found clearly marked onto the grass just like this:




    Here's a photo of a typical footbal field:






    Now, one hundred yards is the same as 300 feet. And 300 feet is a considerable distance, but my point here is that it's not TERRIBLY long.



    --300 feet is only a little bit loger than 7 school busses parked in a row (40 feet of length to one bus). Most modern elementary schools have bus circles long enough to accomodate no less than eight school busses parked end-to-end at 2:00 PM every afetrnoon as they await the dismissal of the kiddies.







    --300 feet is the distance covered by six telephone poles along a country highway (50 feet apart)







    I'm not saying I could jog that distance in a mere five seconds flat. What I am instead trying to say is that I find it a cheap shot whenever anyone employs the phrase "the size of a football field" or "as long as a foootball field" (or any other variation on that) whenever trying to explain that something is one hundred yards. Courtroom lawyers do it a lot and I think it's sneaky and rotten. The reason I hate it is that what they're REALLY doing is NOT drawing a comparison to this:











    They are instead trying to conjur in the minds of their listeners (or perhaps in the minds of the jury) THIS:






    And THAT is a deceptive image they are attempting to invoke.




    The usage of words is what we writers do. And I think this particular usage of words is NOT intellectually honest.
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  2. #2
    Onomatopotamus NicoleMD's Avatar
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    Football field and football stadium bring two completely different pictures in my mind. Both fairly accurate to the respective last two pictures posted. At least for me they do.

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    30 months on a bicycle... nancy sv's Avatar
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    When I hear football field - I think 100 yards. 300 feet. The first couple of pics. I do NOT think of football stadium (but then I don't watch football on TV and I never go to footgames in stadiums. When I am forced to, I will go to high school games that are played in fields - not stadiums)

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    Snow? Already? Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Yeah. I think of the FIELD, which is 100 yards. I don't know anyone who thinks of the entire football STADIUM. And I don't think there's any dishonesty to it at all. Its used because, as you said, everyone has seen a football field. Dang near every high school has one. It's a convenient comparision and easily understood by nearly every American.
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    It's green they say FennelGiraffe's Avatar
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    I expect that most peoples' image of a "football field" includes the end zones. So it's really 120 yards, even though they think of that as being 100 yards.
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  6. #6
    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Yep, it would never occur to me that when someone said "It's the size of a football field" they meant that it was the size of a football stadium.

    However, I do think that FennelGiraffe is right in that most people's mental image of a football field includes the end zones.

    It's pretty approximate, anyway, which is why it's useful (or not). When someone says "I couldn't hear him, but he was a football field away," I get a very specific mental image of the two people standing on the opposite ends of my high school's football field.

  7. #7
    Lost in School Work icerose's Avatar
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    At most when someone says field I think of endzone to endzone. I have never thought of the entire stadium when someone says so and I have never heard of anyone saying they thought of an entire stadium. Not to mention that stadiums vary in size where as you pointed out the fields are pretty much the same set of boxes.

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    On that writing-a-new-story high. Monkey's Avatar
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    I agree with FennelGiraffe that most people's image of a football field would include the end zones, but I also agree with Nicole, Nancy, and Ferret that when I hear football field, I think of the field and not the whole stadium.

    In America, most high schools have a football field. It looks like your second picture. In fact, I had to look VERY closely to assure myself that that wasn't a picture of the field behind the school 2 blocks from my house. I think a lot of us are more familiar with these kinds of fields than stadiums.

    The bigger point is, to a lot of people, 100 yards or 300 feet doesn't mean much without some sort of concrete example. If you told me to mark off 300 feet, I'd very likely be WAY off unless I realized, "Oh, that's about as long as a football field," and used that image as a guide. I still wouldn't be spot on, but as a former track runner (the track goes around the field, as in picture 2) I'd be pretty close.

    A lot of people are like that. Concrete examples are good for giving a general idea of what's being discussed for those who may have a harder time conceptualizing things in the abstract or visualizing distances based on numerical values.
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    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    I concur with most of the above.

    I just think "Okay, so something slightly smaller than a soccer field?"

    Or "Okay, so something I can cross in about thirteen seconds?

    Or "Okay, so that's a pretty lame and cliche description."

  10. #10
    It's a doggy dog world benbradley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plot Device View Post
    The following post is one of my pet peeves in life. It involves the effective usage of words in a manner that I feel is underhanded and ultimately deceptive.
    ...
    Now, one hundred yards is the same as 300 feet. And 300 feet is a considerable distance, but my point here is that it's not TERRIBLY long.
    ...
    something is one hundred yards. Courtroom lawyers do it a lot and I think it's sneaky and rotten.
    ...
    The usage of words is what we writers do. And I think this particular usage of words is NOT intellectually honest.
    My goodness! I hear words that aren't intellectually honest every day I turn on the radio (yes, even on NPR!!!), or feast my eyes above the words on this page: "Ads provided by Google and not endorsed by AW" (now why do you suppose THOSE words are there...).

    May I suggest a cynical reading of this book, almost surely in print continuously since before I was born:
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0393310728

    I've got pet peeves, but even the most egregious misuses of words and phrases isn't one of them.

    But what do I know, it's "only a theory..."
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  11. #11
    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    I concur with most of the above.

    I just think "Okay, so something slightly smaller than a soccer field?"

    Or "Okay, so something I can cross in about thirteen seconds?

    Or "Okay, so that's a pretty lame and cliche description."
    A number of people have remarked on why it is that cancers or other tumors are always compared to fruit. "It's the size of an orange" or "It's the size of a grapefruit."

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    haz a shiny new book cover Christine N.'s Avatar
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    If you've ever stood in the end zone and looked all the way to the other end, it looks like a much more impressive distance than it is.

    I used the description once, to relay the size of a dragon. If you'd seen a 300 foot long lizard, perhaps the comparison is a bit more reasonable?
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    Falling in the milk megan_d's Avatar
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    When I hear "football field" I picture the oval shaped playground of the AFL. (Australian Football League).

  14. #14
    Hapless Virago IceCreamEmpress's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by megan_d View Post
    When I hear "football field" I picture the oval shaped playground of the AFL. (Australian Football League).
    Well, that's different--a US football field is 100 yards long, or 91.44 meters, whereas Wikipedia tells me that an Aussie Rules field is between 135 and 185 meters long.

    So it could be reasonably close or off by more than half, depending.

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    The grimflits are out to get me Matera the Mad's Avatar
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    I do not carry the dimensions of futzball fields around in my head, so it is not a good comparison for me. I agree that it is not a good standard of measurement because I don't believe that even the majority of people who like the idiotic game have a real concept of the distance. In fact, it might loom larger in their minds because of the importance of commercial pigskin-walloping in their lives.
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  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Bump.

    I'm working on research regarding how this phrase "as big as ___" differs in different countries. For example, in the United States they might say "as big as a football field," or "big as a soccer field."

    What are the hallmarks of size used in other countries?

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    Living the dream CaroGirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mai View Post
    Bump.

    I'm working on research regarding how this phrase "as big as ___" differs in different countries. For example, in the United States they might say "as big as a football field," or "big as a soccer field."

    What are the hallmarks of size used in other countries?
    Here in Canada, we measure everything in comparison to the size of the average beaver. Thus, the toaster was as big as a beaver, meaning a very large toaster. Or, the dog was smaller than a beaver, meaning quite a small dog, though not terribly small.

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    Distracted Chicago Expat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaroGirl View Post
    Here in Canada, we measure everything in comparison to the size of the average beaver. Thus, the toaster was as big as a beaver, meaning a very large toaster. Or, the dog was smaller than a beaver, meaning quite a small dog, though not terribly small.
    That really puts Canada in a bind. With the recent World Health Organization report on the average size of beavers declining at an alarming rate, Canada is basically stuck with a perpetually sliding scale of measurement. However, I'm saving my sympathy for those poor small dogs, who are now gonna have to get even smaller just to keep up with the shrinking beavers.
    Last edited by Chicago Expat; 04-04-2011 at 07:01 PM.

  19. #19
    Ruining your porn since 1984 BunnyMaz's Avatar
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    The size of a doubledecker bus! Or The size of x buses! Is the only one that comes to mind for me as a Brit.
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    Living the dream CaroGirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chicago Expat View Post
    That really puts Canada in a bind. With the recent World Health Organization's report on the average size of beaver's declining at an alarming rate, Canada is basically stuck with a perpetually sliding scale of measurement. However, I'm saving my sympathy for those poor small dogs, who are now gonna have to get even smaller just to keep up with the shrinking beavers.
    Indeed. I believe there's a movement afoot to replace the beaver with a grizzly bear for large objects and a Pacific Coho salmon for smaller objects.

    I support that initiative.

  21. #21
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    The audience I write for damn well does know exactly how big a football field is, and they damn well know it's a hundred yards, and they damn well know I'm not trying to conjure the image of a stadium. If I wanted to do that, I'd say it's the size of the stadium. They also knows how far telephone poles are apart in a given location, know how far high tension towers are apart, and I use this comparison because they all do it, as well.

    Any good hunter, and any good sniper, has all these things memorized, they use them mentally often, and it would be completely unrealistic to use any other comparison. When no other landmarks, such as telephone polls, high tension towers, etc. are in view, you use the mental image of football fields to estimate range.
    What audience do you write for? And would you use phrases like 'as apart as two telephone poles.' How would you phrase it exactly. Is it common among non-hunters? Is it a common phrase among hunters?

    (I'm not from the U.S. so I don't know)

    And thanks guys for telling me the phrases you know of, please keep them coming!

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    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mai View Post
    Bump.

    I'm working on research regarding how this phrase "as big as ___" differs in different countries. For example, in the United States they might say "as big as a football field," or "big as a soccer field."

    What are the hallmarks of size used in other countries?
    Always nice to see old threads dusted off and given an airing.

    In the UK I've heard size comparison expressions like "tall as a giraffe," "as big as an elephant" or "as big as a house." Ditto "big enough to choke a horse" when talking about food portions or the physical size of male apparatus (!), and as a grunt-like insult, "has a backside like a bus."

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  23. #23
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    There are other standards used in describing large objects or lengths, like half a city block, or two city blocks.

    Coming from MA-ruralsville and never having lived anywhere near a city, I have no mental image of this. I have no clue how long it takes to walk a city block. I've never had to use this reference a day or minute in my life. But when a writer uses it, I get the idea. Or when on a TV show the city-folk say 'Good God, you expect me to walk ten city blocks!' I get it.

    We all use what we know as a frame of reference, trying to keep it as generalized as we can for our readers to understand. But we also don't dumb down our writing (I hope) or go around explaining every little reference, metaphor or simile we're writing. (At least I hope we don't.)

    For myself, I'd like to use the length of a sperm whale, and have the other person say 'Good God, man, don't you mean the length of a blue?'
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    Distracted Chicago Expat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BunnyMaz View Post
    The size of a doubledecker bus! Or The size of x buses! Is the only one that comes to mind for me as a Brit.
    Yeah, [size] as a schoolbus is one that seems to be a commonly used lazy fallback phrase.

    I'm struggling to come up with some of my own, but I know they're out there.

    "Smaller than a Pacific Coho salmon," is starting to get under my skin a little bit.

    Oh, hey! I thought of one, "Quiet as a church mouse." I find that one particularly deceptive. I have known many church mice, and they just couldn't shut up and stop preaching so I could fall asleep. No, not quiet at all. Not even the ones that had side jobs as snipers. Their itsy bitsy claw is pulling the trigger but they go on and on about how bad The Office is gonna stink now that Steve Carrel is leaving. Yeesh.

    And regarding the usage of "big as a football field"... I also think it's completely useless. The thing of it is, it's not (despite ridiculous claims above) NOT a standard unit of measurement. If you tell a Pittsburgh Steeler that something is as big as a football field, they'll probably imagine a distance quite small, perhaps forty yards, but if you say the same thing to a Detroit Lion, well, that's gonna conjure up images better measured in miles.

    I believe that my post should be accepted by AW as the definitive remarks on this subject, and thus, this thread should be locked.

    You're welcome.

  25. #25
    just thanks tko's Avatar
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    it's not that

    In the U.S. most kids are required to take P.E. (since 1820!), almost all schools have football fields, and at some point in their life most U.S. kids have had to stand at one end of a football field, or jog around it, or do wind sprints, in which case it seems very long indeed. The track in most high schools winds around the football field, other games may be played there as well.

    However, the real point is that a football field (again, in the U.S.) is the one relative exact distance that we should have all had shared experience with. Imagine:

    As big as a city block? (The worst description ever. Since when did a city block become standardized?)

    As big a building??

    As big as a rock???

    As tall as the hills?

    As wide as a freeway? Wider than the ocean?

    There is no other common item that has such a fixed and well defined size, hence it's popularity. Whether or not you like football doesn't really have much to do with it, nor does your individual experience count much, since it would be hard to suggest a more common, meaningful, and precise description of distance to use for the bulk of U.S. readers.

    How did you get out of P.E.?

    Quote Originally Posted by Matera the Mad View Post
    I do not carry the dimensions of futzball fields around in my head, so it is not a good comparison for me. I agree that it is not a good standard of measurement because I don't believe that even the majority of people who like the idiotic game have a real concept of the distance. In fact, it might loom larger in their minds because of the importance of commercial pigskin-walloping in their lives.

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