It's Friday Afternoon

by Don Boudreaux on March 27, 2009

in Sports

I'm no basketball fan.  Actually, I'm not much of a sports fan at all (although I confess to suffering from a heart-breaking affection for, and interest in, the New Orleans Saints).

So unlike many Americans at this time of year, I remain sane throughout this period of "March Madness."  But all the alliteration is inescapable — "March Madness"; "Sweet Sixteen"; "Final Four"; "Elite Eight."

Wait!  "Elite Eight"?  What a terrible term for the eight college basketball teams remaining in the annual NCAA tournament.  It's not alliterative at all.

I suppose people use it because "elite" starts with an "e" — just like "eight" starts with an "e."  Alliteration, though, is not about the alphabet; it's about sound.

The first sound heard when an American says "elite" is a long E.  The first sound heard when an American says "eight" is a long A.

A better term for the eight teams remaining in the tournament is, say, "Awesome Eight."  "Amazing Eight" also works pretty well.  Even "Great Eight" works better than the abominable term now used.

Hearing sportscasters say "elite eight" is grating.

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vidyohs March 27, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Like you Dr. Boudreaux I am no sports fan.

However, I was a pretty damn good athlete, and was still pitching at age 53, and playing racquetball/basketball beyond that. I will play sports but I, in general, don't give a hoot about watching.

What grates me is the very term "March Madness" and the implication that "we all" actually care.

The local Houston Rockets won back to back NBA championships, and none of my expenses went down, the sun shone no brighter, the wind blew no softer or more fair, green grass was no greener, my income didn't go up, and cheap wine was still cheap wine.

I expect that my life will continue to be unchanged regardless of who plays for the NCAA championship or who wins.

Richard March 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm

This post is wrong. "Elite Eight" an excellent name.

First of all, it is alliterative. See, where the second definition of alliteration is "the commencement of two or more words of a word group with the same letter, as in 'apt alliteration's artful aid.'"

Second, Elite Eight has the same number of syllables as Sweet Sixteen, Final Four, and March Madness, making them all work together in a very satisfying way.

Don, I like your economics and your politics. But if you think Great Eight or Awesome Eight or Amazing Eight is better than Elite Eight, I'm forced to conclude that you have a tin ear.

Mesa Econoguy March 27, 2009 at 6:27 pm

I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from such movies as ‘P’ Is For ‘Psycho,’ and The President’s Neck Is Missing…..

Sameer Parekh March 27, 2009 at 6:28 pm

awesome alliteration.

Mike Laursen March 27, 2009 at 6:42 pm

You're positioning yourself up to take over for Andy Rooney, aren't you?

William March 27, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Mike beat me to it.

Daniel Kuehn March 27, 2009 at 7:13 pm

And the worst part is, what's so "elite" about the final eight? March madness works I think because a sizable enough portion of the population can be described as going mad.

But "elite" with three wins still separating each team from the victory, and seven of them who won't even achieve it? Hardly "elite", wouldn't you say?

And now that I think about it… there's nothing "final" about the four either, is there?

Deep thoughts Don… thanks :)

Patrick McLean March 27, 2009 at 7:23 pm

As if there wasn't enough to be upset about in the field of economics? You need to range far and wide? ;-)

@vidyohs — He's making the point because he has a good ear. The dubious definitions of aside, alliteration is (and originated as) a device of the spoken word. Plainly Ptarmigan is hardly alliterative. But Neatly Knifed sure is. That first letter definition misses the whole point of the linguistic device.

Here's more than you ever wanted to know.

Language, like all spontaneous orders, doesn't submit to overly simplistic definitions.

And lastly, here's a dictionary definition of inflation — Inflation (n) a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money

Anybody here satisfied with that definition? Or is it leaving something out?

brotio March 27, 2009 at 7:31 pm


I think you're new to this blog. The author of a reply on this blog appears below the dotted line below their reply.

The post you are replying to was posted by: Richard | Mar 27, 2009 6:12:04 PM

brotio March 27, 2009 at 7:34 pm


If you are new to the Cafe – Welcome!

McMullen March 27, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Don, complaining about something like this is beneath you. What's next?

Jim Nantz: The Masters. A tradition unlike any other.

Don Boudreaux: What about the British Open? It should really be 'A tradition similar to others,' or 'A tradition unlike most others.' This kind of inconsistency in sportscasting is grating.

Richard March 27, 2009 at 7:39 pm


First of all, that definition of inflation is perfectly fine. The dictionary is not the same thing as an economics treatise.

Second, regardless of how we define alliteration, Elite and Eight both start with hard vowel sounds that are similar though not identical. The similarity is pleasing.

Third, you ignored my point about syllables.

Fourth, Elite and Eight also work together because they both end with the hard "T" sound. But you would ignore that feature because technically the words don't rhyme.

It's the difference between being literal and being literary. You're the first. Elite Eight is the second.

Daniel Kuehn March 27, 2009 at 7:46 pm

This is really taking up too much of my brain cells on a Friday night.

I was thinking – do you all really say "eee"lite? I say it "uh"lite. It's still not quite alliteration, but it's closer than Don's version.

Anyway, I'm not sure the "American" way of saying it is necessarily with a long "e".

Liz March 27, 2009 at 8:18 pm

After reading this particular post, I feel like it would be more beneficial for you (and probably me, too) if we changed the title to "It's Miller time," and react accordingly.

Jeff March 27, 2009 at 9:33 pm

How about "Elevated Eight"?

Patrick McLean March 28, 2009 at 1:09 am

Whoops, sorry for my confusion. And thanks for the welcome Brotio. The Cafe is lovely.

@Richard, I see that you are very sincere about having a point. And if your point is you like Elite Eight, then more power to you. But that's not what you said. Don is making a fairly sophisticated point about alliteration. One that relies on an ear made of something other than tin.

Which is why your mean-spirited comment got my attention.

First — You made my point for me. The narrow dictionary definition of alliteration you offered isn't wrong, it's just terribly limited. And since you tried to take the nice man who works hard posting quite a lot on the blog to task with that definition, I thought I would point out its obvious limitations.

Fourth — Elite and Eight DO rhyme. It's called half or sprung rhyme. Again, here's more than you want to know

>>It's the difference between being literal and being literary. You're the first. Elite Eight is the second.

It's a nice rhetorical flourish, but I just don't believe that kind of judgment is within your qualifications. God help us all when we must rely on Sportscasters for the quality of our prose.

Good luck passing your gallstone.

Arnold D'Souza March 28, 2009 at 6:05 am

I love how completely random this post is. Simply brilliant.

Also, I think Elite Eight is, while sucky, certainly not as bad as the names that you've come up with! Geez!

hanmeng March 28, 2009 at 12:02 pm

This is worse than Andy Rooneyish, it's simply wrong.

As far as sound goes, "Awesome" Eight is no better than "Elite" Eight; "ah" as in "awe" is not "a" as in able.

Campus Entrepreneurship March 28, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Good post/comments. I love march madness. people care because of the finality of a single elimination tournament. Moreover, as the number of teams dwindle down, parity usually appears and the final games are intense. additionally, the interactive nature of the tournament (via brackets) makes it an easy event for people to particpate in. much shorter than the regular season and other sports playoffs.

Lastly, Great 8 is Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. His grace, power, and intensity on the ice are worthy of attention whether one is a hockey fan or not. Check him out, he is local in DC.

Sportsbook Review April 15, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Come on.. everyone is a sports fan even if only in a limited way.

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