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He Shoots, He Scores; She Shoots, She Scores. 'Slam Dunk' Terms Resound

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: we answer a sports question.

RS: A listener from Ivory Coast, Marius Meledje, would like to learn more about the language of basketball. This is a good week to answer that question. It's the start of what Americans call "March Madness" -- top college basketball teams compete for the national championship.

AA: Like any sport, basketball has its own lingo. Some phrases have entered popular speech. One of them is the term "slam dunk."

In basketball, a slam-dunk is when a player jumps up really high and essentially shoves the ball right down through the hoop, instead of throwing it from the court and hoping it goes in. In popular use, a slam-dunk is a sure thing or an expectation of something that is seen as guaranteed.

RS: Another term is "full-court press." We found this definition on an NBA, National Basketball Association, Web page: "When the defensive team defends the offensive team in the backcourt. Full-court presses often have the defensive team double-teaming the ball in an attempt to force a turnover."

AA: Just picture an aggressive effort by one group of people to succeed against another, and you can see why "full-court press" also makes a good metaphor. It can be used, for instance, to describe an intensive legislative-lobbying effort or an aggressive strategy in business or law.

RS: Another term that's crossed over from basketball, especially pickup basketball, is "my bad." "My bad" is what a player might say after making a mistake like a bad pass to a teammate, or throwing the ball "out of bounds" -- another sports term from basketball as well as other sports. "Out of bounds" refers to any behavior that violates accepted rules.

Pickup basketball is the name for a casual -- or maybe not-so-casual -- game played by whoever wants to "shoot some hoops."

AA: As for March Madness, it starts out with more than five dozen teams. If you hear the term "brackets," that refers to the schematic diagram of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tournament. The games are listed in a series of brackets for each round.

The term "Final Four" refers to the four teams that emerge as regional champions. They will play in the national semifinals in Atlanta on March thirty-first. The two winners will then play for the national championship on April second.

RS: Fans of women's college hoops have their own set of brackets to follow. The first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship is set for this Saturday and Sunday. The women's Final Four will play in Cleveland on April first, followed by the national championship game two days later.

So with all these games to be played in the coming days, you can see why people call it March Madness.

AA: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti. We leave you with a song by Chris Rock and the late great singer Barry White, called "Basketball Jones."