big game

Yesterday was the Big Game, between Stanford and Cal (the University of California at Berkeley), the Stanford Cardinal and the Cal Bears, in football:


(Stanford over Cal 28-16, at Stanford Stadium; much celebration)

Linguistic point 1: the usage of the expression The Big Game.

Linguistic point 2: the expression big game used to refer to animals.

Bonus: the movie Big Game.

The Big Game. Wikipedia thinks that The Big Game refers uniquely to Cal vs. Stanford:

The Big Game is an American college football rivalry game played by the California Golden Bears football team of the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford Cardinal football team of Stanford University. First played 123 years ago in 1892, it is the eighth most played college football rivalry game in the United States.

But people at other schools have their own local usages, using The Big Game or simply The Game to refer the annual football game that is high point of the season (and often the last of the season, so coming close to American Thanksgiving). When I lived in Columbus OH, the Ohio State-Michigan game was The Big Game, and there are similar usages at other schools. (This game is coming up on the 28th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.)

Though Wikipedia has a giant list of NCAA college football rivalry games, only a very small number of these games have the paramount importance of Cal-Stanford or Michigan-Ohio State. In the Ivy League, Harvard-Yale (played yesterday; Harvard won). Among the service academies, Army-Navy (coming up this year on December 12th). And the oldest of these rivalries, Lafayette (in Easton PA) vs. Lehigh (in Bethlehem PA), also played yesterday, Lehigh on top; Lafayette-Lehigh is the most-played football rivalry and the longest uninterrupted annual rivalry series (it began in 1884, before there even was a Stanford; Stanford opened its doors in 1891).

In any case, the game of The Big Game refers specifically to a college (American) football game. NOAD2 gives two relevant senses of game here, the first referring to a type, the second to a token, and the second is the sense in The Big Game:

a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.

a complete episode or period of play, typically ending in a definite result: a baseball game.

big game. Now to the animals. From NOAD2 on another noun game:

wild mammals or birds hunted for sport or food.

Game animals of Africa vs. North America:


Morphosyntactic note: this noun is a count noun that occurs only in the plural (Lots of game were gathered at the waterhole; *One game was stalking Henry), and it’s a zero-plural at that.

Etymological note: for both the play or sport senses and the wild animal sense, NOAD2 gives one etymology:

ORIGIN Old English gamen ‘amusement, fun,’ gamenian ‘play, amuse oneself,’ of Germanic origin.

So the common historical thread to the two senses is amusement.

Now add big to game.  From Wikipedia:

Big-game hunting is the hunting of large game for meat, other animal by-products (such as horn or bone), trophy or sport. The term is historically associated with the hunting of Africa’s “Big Five” game (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros), and with tigers and rhinoceroses on the Indian subcontinent. The numbers of white rhinoceros are considered too low to support hunting … but the other four species are still hunted in Africa, as well as other species such as kudu, antelope, and hartebeest. Moose, elk, bear, mountain lion, alligator and deer are the largest game hunted in North America, which is where most big-game hunting is conducted today.

The movie. Looking up material on football games and wild animals brought me to the movie Big Game. From Wikipedia:

Big Game is a 2014 Finnish action adventure film directed by Jalmari Helander, based on the 2013 book of the same name [by Dan Smith]. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Jim Broadbent, and Ray Stevenson.

The film pairs the 13-year-old Onni Tommila (sent to prove his manhood by taking down a big game animal with bow and arrow) and Jackson (as the President of the United States); Air Force One is brought down by evildoers, and Jackson ends up in the wilds of Finland, being hunted by a maniac bad guy, with only young Onni to help him.


So the kid is hunting big game while the President (a very big and important target) is being hunted like an animal.

The film is a ripping action-adventure flick in the tradition of such movies. But it seems also to be an extremely goofy fantasy with preposterous twists and turns. Many critics enjoyed it as an action film, but some complained that it was two movies in one, and didn’t quite work as either one.

It was also the most expensive movie ever filmed in Finland.

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