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by Lionel E. Deimel

It’s that time of year again when Major League Baseball is staging the playoffs that culminate in the World Series. I watched a couple of games last night and was reminded that viewing sports on television can be linguistically irritating.

What set me off was the use of “postseason” to describe the present events of the baseball year. Nearly every professional sport now seems to have a “season” after the regular season, which is used to determine an overall champion. We used to hear of “post-season” play, meaning,Baseball of course, games or matches that take place after the regular season. Sportscasters are prone to finding abbreviated ways of saying anything, however, and it did not take long for the descriptive “post-season” to morph into the noun “postseason.” I am sympathetic to the impulse behind this development, but the reality is that “postseason” makes little sense.

Since “post” means “after,” one could argue that the “postseason” is the “after season,” but this isn’t very idiomatic. We expect “season” to be modified by an adjective, often one derived from a noun: “Christmas season,” “Easter season,” “silly season.” Usually, “after” is a preposition or adverb, although it has a few obscure uses as an adjective. “Postseason,” intuitively, should either have something to do with posts or be an adjective, as in “postseason play,” a logical, if infelicitous, development from “post-season play.”* Whenever I hear “postseason,” I think: postseason what?

Rather than speaking of the “postseason,” why do we not use a term like “playoff season” or “championship season”? We could also say “playoffs,” a particularly good choice, or “championships.” Besides, after baseball teams have played 162 games, the contests leading to a World Series win are relatively few in number, hardly justifying the term “season” at all. By contrast, the Stanley Cup playoffs seem to go on for so long that the regular NHL season could be described as the “pre-Stanley-Cup-playoffs season.” (This reminds me that “preseason,” as a noun, has all the problems of “postseason.”) College basketball ends in tournaments, most notably, the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Baseball commentators could, therefore, talk about the “World Series Playoffs” or the “World Series Tournament,” either of which sounds natural. (Here, the nouns could be capitalized or not, depending upon whether Major League Baseball adopts such a designation as an official one.)

Overall, I prefer simply talking about the baseball “playoffs,” a term already in use that has one fewer syllable than “postseason.” Whatever one calls the current play, no posts are involved.

— LED, 10/6/2007

*I will save writing about such compounds for another day. “Postseason,” like “railroad” (formerly “rail-road”), at least seems like a reasonable English word. Changing “ground out” into “groundout,” however, is surely a mistake.

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