Tuesday, 26 August 2008

On Team GB

A correspondent wonders about the 'unusual' grammar of the phrase Team GB, as used for the Olympics team. It reminds him of a North London pub in the 1970s called Pub Lotus (where it seems all the chairs were replica bucket seats from Lotus sports cars) and Canadian usages such as Health Canada. He adds: 'Here in the UK we seem to be in a transitional stage, with English Heritage coexisting with Sport England. It's not unlike the pattern seen in stock phrases taken from Norman French, e.g. court martial, battle royal - the difference being that in the modern pattern nouns, rather than adjectives, are used in apposition.'

But that difference is important, making the construction very different from the case of postposed adjectives. How unusual is it, in fact? If we construe it appositionally as 'the team which is, more specifically, GB', then the construction is not very different from the many cases of restrictive apposition which have been in English for a long time:

Mount Everest (= the mountain that is Everest)
Lake Windemere (= the lake that is Windermere)
River Thames (= the river that is Thames)
County Cork (= the county that is Cork)
Queen Elizabeth (= the Queen who is Elizabeth)
Dr Brown (= the doctor who is Brown)
architect Jim Smith (= the architect who is Jim Smith)
the number six (= the number that is six)
the year 2009 (= the year that is 2009)
my brother Fred (= my brother who is Fred)
Platform 3 (= the platform that is 3)
and so on.

But Team GB does have a certain rhetorical punch, which comes, I think, not only from the reversed word order but also from the omission of any determiner: compare the GB Team. This makes it like Operation Desert Storm, Hurricane Katrina, Eggs Benedict, and so on, as well as such dramatic names as Mission Impossible. Constructions such as Health Canada are interesting because of their use of an uncountable noun as the first element. And part of the effect of Team GB may derive from the fact that its first element is a collective noun. A few other collectives work in the same way, e.g. Club Med, Department 2, Generation X

Is the usage likely to extend beyond the present top-level institutional senses? Will we get Team England, Team Chelsea, and so on? It would be good to collect a few more examples of the current fashionable trend.

22 comments:

Trée said...

David, restrictive apposition, to my ear, when used skillfully, is one of the most gorgeous of grammatical constructs. I don't see it used as much as I would like, which makes me wonder if I'm one of the few that prefers this sort of rhetorical flourish. For example, and forgive me if I'm using apposition incorrectly here, but I much prefer shadows blue to blue shadows, wood old to old wood. Thanks again for another wonderful post.

DC said...

These examples are noun + adjective, not noun + noun - only the latter would be called apposition. But you're right to sense a parallel. If we take a case like the firm Sports Direct, the 'feel' is very like Team GB, even though the grammar is different.

Nigel Greenwood said...

Some of the rhetorical punch you rightly identify must come from the exoticism of the reversed order. To my ear, Team GB sounds a bit like a binomial scientific term: Athletae britannici, as it were. It's not exactly "the team that is GB" -- unlike "UK plc" it doesn't embrace the whole country -- but rather "the team labelled GB".

Incidentally, Club Med is directly taken from the French abbreviation for Club Méditerranée; while Eggs Benedict imitates countless other French culinary terms. Mission Impossible is interesting in that it is technically spelt with a colon (Mission: Impossible) -- presumably to make it look slightly less strange.

Is this usage likely to spread? Well, we'll know it's naturalized when we start hearing about Squad Oz in Test Match reports ...

Trée said...

David, thanks for the clarification. There was a reason I was a history major and not english. :-)

baralbion said...

A politico-linguistic point, if I may.

According to the website of the British Olympic Association, 'Team GB is the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic Team.’ We can only suppose that the relevant Northern Ireland authorities were consulted and agreed that the abbreviation of the geographical term should be used as the national one. Dwellers on Anglesey, I take it, were also content.

DC said...

I've no idea! Anglesey isn't relevant, as it is part of GB. I did see some discussion the other day in a paper about the relative merits of Team UK, which is technically the term for 'Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. A problem still relates to a few islands, such as the Isle of Man, which is not technically part of GB or the UK!

Anonymous said...

To my mind/ear, 'Team GB' is the same construction as 'Chateau Lafite', 'Casa Anna', 'Haus Peter' and so on (cf. 'Ty Sion' = 'John's House' in Welsh). The technical name for this is a 'construct state nominal'. It's a kind of possessive noun phrase formed by apposition, and is found in many languages, but not normally English (though I have seen the odd example). No doubt the phrase has a certain cachet (sic) for this reason...!

DC said...

Misleading to say 'the' technical term; 'a' better, as by no means all grammarians use it.

Nigel Greenwood said...

A few more thoughts:

There seems to be an analogy with rather more cryptic compounds such as Brand X and (in legal cases in which anonymity must be preserved) Child C or Soldier B. An apparent exception is The A Team -- but this means "The top/best team", whereas Team A would simply be the first of several to be mentioned.

We also have the case of Man Friday (the man whose name was/who was discovered on Friday).

DC said...

Good point. The contrastive criterion is illuminating, as it shows the restrictive force of the qualifying noun. Interesting to try it out on other expressions, too, such as Man Friday (vs Friday Man), and so on.

Nigel Greenwood said...

The official name of the British Paralympics team is ParalympicsGB. So perhaps the usage is indeed slowly spreading.

A further straw in the wind. In this report the headline is Yorkshire team announced for IIFA celebrity cricket match; while the text contains the expression 'team Yorkshire' (NB in quotes).

DC said...

Well spotted! The quote marks are important, as it shows the writer is conscious of a new usage.

baralbion said...

I'm still waiting for the British Olympic Association to explain why it's Team GB and not Team UK.

DC said...

I see in today's Sunday Times there is a reference to Team Murray, referring to all those who work with Andy Murray.

Nigel Greenwood said...

See this recent cartoon depicting Team Gordy in The Guardian.

DC said...

And Team Obama in today's Independent.

andyc said...

Here in Oz, we have had an epidemic of these appositions over the last decade, replacing older names for various Public Service organisations. For instance, the National Film and Sound Archive became "ScreenSound Australia". Unfortunately,the "BuzzWord Australia" tags convey an impression of takeover by managerialists and marketers, and replacement of substance by style. The fad appears to be fading, now. NFSA recently had its original, more popular identity restored.

DC said...

Nice to have an antipodean perspective on all this. Interesting examples.

Philip Johnstone said...

The BBC's political correspondent, Nick Robinson, was using the construct back in 2007, as with 'Team Brown'. A Google search suggests this is quite often used by political journalists.

baralbion said...

A late thought: Peach Melba, Chicken Kiev.

DC said...

And another one. Actor son Ben, wife Hilary, and I sometimes do performance gigs together. The advance publicity for one this year refers to us as 'Team Crystal'.

baralbion said...

Gold medal guaranteed.

Another: Brothers Grimm.