With 78 nations competing in the Olympics, Salt Lake City is a Babel of languages. And no tongue is stranger—more exotic, more impenetrable—than English. At the Winter Games "toe picks" aren't used by guitar-playing monkeys but are the notches at the front of a figure skater's blade. They're used to perform "toe loops," which sound like a cereal once endorsed by Lou Groza but are in fact figure skating jumps performed by the same people who do hydrants, Lutzes and Salchows. As for "camel spins"—they're what you get in bed after smoking a carton of filterless cigarettes.
"Curling" is what happens to your chest hair when you take a swig of Polygamy Porter, an actual Utah beer whose slogan is, Why have just one? Curling, though, is also an Olympic sport played largely between the "hog lines." Hog lines also form at Olympic media bus stops, for few of the 8,418 journalists here come from queue-forming nations. In these hog lines you'll find curling writers, whose prose frequently reads like this, from a press release from USA Curling:
" USA stole a single in the second end when Sweden's last-rock draw for one was just slightly heavy. The middle ends were the toughest for the Americans. 'After that double for three in the third didn't work, we got a little flat,' said Coach Bud Somerville, Tim's father. But the Americans played the sixth well to force Sweden to draw for one against three U.S. counters. The dramatic seventh was set up by vice skip Mike Schneeberger, who made a raise takeout and rolled the shooter over to guard against another U.S. rock. Then came Lindholm's draw, and eventually the counterpunch."
If Maximilian Berlitz had covered the Olympics, he'd have hanged himself from his headphone cord.
Consider that a "slider" is both a luge athlete and a kind of curling shoe. Thus, curlers often wear sliders, but sliders seldom wear curlers, except occasionally around the house, when watching All My Children. A slider shaking her "bootie" is a luger removing snow from her shoe. A slider who "eighty-ones" his "rodel" is a luger who crashes his racing sled. And a "slider with vinyl" remains, as ever, a White Castle cheeseburger.
" Mitt Romney" is how a German orders his eggs. A "biathlete" is nor Dennis Rodman. And "driving the skeleton" is what Jerry Buss's chauffeur does. It is all very confusing.
For instance, a hockey team plays on a rink, but a curling team is a rink, and that rink plays on a "sheet." The sheet, to hear curlers describe it, is composed—depending on conditions—of "heavy ice," "straight ice" or "swingy ice." Swingy ice is not an effeminate rapper but a sheet that has a lot of "curl" in it. But what, pray tell, is a "curly sheet"? What a Stooge wears to a Klan rally?
Snowboarding is best watched while wearing a U.N. General Assembly headset. You'll need simultaneous translation of every utterance. For example, a "sick ho ho with backside rotation" does not necessarily describe one of Luther Campbell's backup dancers but may refer to a hand-plant-and-twist maneuver in the halfpipe. (A "halfpipe" is what boarders are forbidden to smoke in the weeks before Olympic competition.) And a "wet cat" is a 900-degree rotation during a "McTwist." (A McTwist is an inverted aerial, and what Ronald McDonald gets his underwear in when you try to order breakfast after 10:30.) Snowboarders, you see, can be wonderfully descriptive—lyrical even. When a boarder loses balance in the air and rotates his arms wildly in an effort to recover, he is said to be "rolling down the windows."
Freestyle skiers gave us the felicitous "yard sale," for the kind of crash that leaves a skier's arms, legs, skis and poles scattered about the slope. Freestyle, however, is also maddening for broadcasters, who have to know, in an instant, a "lay tuck tuck" from a "lay tuck full" from a "lay full tuck" from a "lay lay full" from a "lay full full" from a "half tuck half" from a "half half full" from a "half full half" from a "full tuck full" from a "full full full" from a "full double full tuck" from a "full double full full" from a "double full full full" from a "full double full double full."
How much tuck turns a lay full tuck to a full double full double full? Difficult to say, because my tongue is in a French braid. This much is certain, though: The next time you see some dude "ridin' goofy," do not alert Disneyland security. Just smile and say, "Dude, you are sick." There is, to a boarder, no better compliment.