Sport commentators’ gaffes as a source for folk humour


Keywords: folklore, humour, linguistic theories of humour, sport commentators’ bloopers, sport commentators’ gaffes, sport commentators’ use of language

The paper analyses, from folkloristic and humour theoretical aspects, sports commentators’ gaffes, or bloopers, collected from live sports broadcasts on different Estonian media channels from 2010–2019. We will attempt to answer three questions: 1) How should such comments be defined in terms of folklore? 2) Which theoretical humour mechanisms are the foundation of this humour? 3) How to categorise the gaffes?

The main focus of the article is on gaffes as a subtype of humor. Sports commentators’ gaffes fall into the category of linguistic humour, which is why it can be analysed by means of linguistic theories of humour. Although we may suspect that sports journalists are intentionally funny, it is generally not true. The remarks are usually not funny for the commentators themselves, but the audience perceive the jokes emerging during live broadcasts as unintentional humour (see Martin 2007) or accidental humour (Nilsen, Nilsen 2000). Sports commentators’ gaffes can be adequately researched in light of the General Theory of Verbal Humour (GTVH) by Salvatore Attardo and Victor Raskin (1991), which generally uses the hierarchic representation model of six knowledge resources. What makes these cases worth recording is their juicy expressiveness, different logic, mistakes, developments that seem interesting and emotionally valuable. The material has a great potential of becoming folklore, starting a life of its own among people, losing the initial connection with the author of the gaffe. It can also be seen as a phenomenon reflecting Estonian sports history. This survey is an attempt to categorise the material in terms of GTVH: tautologies, unintentional juxtapositions where the viewer/listener knows what is meant, nonsense, pointless words, unintended puns, reuse of old proverbs etc. Of course, one has to keep in mind that we can usually not speak of intentional linguistic ‘comedy’ in the case of this kind of jokes, which is why the gaffes should better be described with neutral linguistic terms (metathesis, paronymy, homonymy with its subtypes of homography and homophony) instead of intentional types of humour (wordplay, such as spoonerism, malapropism, Freudian slip, paranomasia/paranomastic image).

Most of the relevant mechanisms function at word and sentence levels. Most of the tropes in our collection are similes with comparative conjunctions such as nagu and kui (over 20% of the 2000-strong corpus), used to express and describe the intensity of a property. There is no limit for a journalist producing figurative, sometimes quite absurd similes, while humour is born from the seeming incongruence of the subject and the referent of comparison taking the recipient by surprise.


Piret Voolaid (b. 1971), PhD, Estonian Literary Museum, Senior Research Fellow; Executive Manager of the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), piret.voolaid@folklore.ee

Kalle Voolaid (b. 1969), MA, Estonian Sports and Olympic Museum, Researcher (Rüütli 15, 51007 Tartu), kalle.voolaid@spordimuuseum.ee



Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumi folkloristika osakonna teadusarhiiv EFITA (F02-016-0001).



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