Cultural Signs of Spring (3)

March Madness. You may have noticed lots of extra attention on basketball around you recently. Men’s and women’s college tournaments have started. The men’s tourney, the second-most popular sports event after the Super Bowl, recently jumped from 64 to 68 qualifying teams. Perennially, the biggest controversy surrounds whether or not your favorite team is selected and then how high (or low) your favorite is ranked in the pairings. The team pairings are arranged in “brackets,” which are printed out and shared among friends and co-workers, often with wagers placed on the outcomes. Looking at the bracketed pairings below, you can see that the left and right margins are filled with specific team names, with the winners of each bracket advancing towards the championship slots in the middle of the chart.

The tournament seems “mad” because of the frenzied beginning to the competition. After a preliminary play-in round with the lowest 8 teams, the first full round begins with 32 games in two days, with lots of TV coverage and highlight reports—a basketball lover’s dream. After the initial Thursday/Friday round, 32 teams are eliminated. After the second round (Saturday/Sunday), 16 more teams are eliminated. The goal is to finish the first weekend of play by advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The second weekend eliminates eight teams in the third round and four more teams in the fourth round, taking the winners from the Elite Eight to the Final Four.

Reaching the hallowed ground of the Final Four gives prestige and national attention to those universities. The semifinal and final rounds will be played in Houston, TX this year. Culture tip: During this three-week period, it’s customary to ask your sports-minded friends and co-workers, “How are your brackets doing? This year, as in the past, the President has chosen the winners and losers of the brackets.”

New Vocabulary and Cultural Concepts
alliteration = a feature of creative writing which puts together words with the same first letter (March Madness, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four). Americans love alliteration.
perennially = every year
ranked pairings = The top 64 teams are separated into four regional competitions (with 16 teams in each region). The #1 ranked (or seeded) team plays the lowest team, #16 while the #2 *team plays the #15 team, and so on.
mad = often used to mean “angry,” but here it means “crazy”
frenzied = crazy, wild, busy
hallowed = holy, sacred
favored (or favorite) teams = top-ranked teams
underdog teams = teams predicted to lose
to be upset = to lose to a lesser-ranked (non-favored) team

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.