Stop the bespoke epidemic in soccer writing


Remember that catchy 2008 Estelle and Kanye West jam ‘American Boy?’

Kanye’s lyric: “Before he speak his suit bespoke” was the first time I had encountered that cool new word. Bespoke. Nice. I heard the song on the radio, remembered the lyric, hopped on my computer a few hours later, searched the web for the definition and learned that bespoke means “custom-made” or “made to order” (especially in reference to clothing). “So it’s like a fancy way of saying tailored?” I thought, kinda disappointed.

Nine years later, the trendy term and its elitist, douchey connotations are mainstream – even though the purveyors of the word want you to think otherwise (It’s not an overused word. It’s a special word for special people who buy special, specially made things).

In August, The New York Times addressed the bespoke epidemic:

Maybe it was the name. The B word has become an increasingly common branding lure employed by interior design companies, publishers, surgeons and pornographers. There are bespoke winesbespoke softwarebespoke vacationsbespokebarbershopsbespoke insurance plansbespoke yogabespoke tattoos, even bespoke medical implants.

“There has been a distinct fashion for it,” said Michael Quinion, an etymologist who has studied the word’s usage. “At this point, it’s really over the top.”

Good analysis, but The Times missed another common forum for Bespoke: Soccer. Or, excuse me, football. How slovenly.

Consider these examples:

Tottenham’s new training gear (mass-produced for consumers and available in the Spurs team store) is bespoke.

Instead of using the same bland template for its national team kits, Nike’s World Cup uniforms will be bespoke.

The advertisements on the shirts of some low-level Brazilian soccer team are bespoke.

Umbro’s Bournemouth kits are bespoke.

Messi’s cleats are bespoke.

I see these stories and can’t help but picture some meticulous tailor, hunched over his sewing machine, stitching the final delicate thread through Bournemouth’s Mansion88 online casino jersey sponsorship decal before rising – fulfilled by his hard work and careful attention to detail– to admire his craftsmanship. Or a cobbler, who apprenticed with his father and now helms a family business dating back generations on some narrow Spanish street, hammering the last hobnail into Messi’s leather riding boot.

Lovely imagery. But all this soccer apparel is likely made of polyester at a Thai sweatshop.

In the United States, this hoity-toity bespoke garbage positions soccer as some elitist pursuit, like it’s polo.  Or a fox hunt.

It’s not good for soccer or soccer fans and it just sounds like a parody, like something 2004 Bush voters thought John Kerry would say.

Hard to imagine sportswriters calling the Pittsburgh Steelers’ helmets or the Boston Red Sox jerseys bespoke because the word has a strong bourgeois connotation.

Take it from the Times:

Though the term began in Britain, Americans have savored its snob appeal. “Americans associate it with the British upper class,” said Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University.


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