October 25, 2017

Sometimes English Just Doesn’t Have the Word: Ruminating on the Word "Mócā"
Recently during one of our advanced junior training sessions, I kept hearing some of the other coaches say something like “Mocha.” We were feeding backspin so the kids could work on looping, and over and over I heard this “Mocha.” I finally asked what they were saying. The word was “mócā.” In Chinese, that’s 摩擦. You can get the pronunciation here. (Click on “say it.”) The definition is roughly “to rub, to create friction.” However, I'm told there isn't really an accurate English description. 

When I want a player to create more spin, I might say, “More spin!” or “Graze the ball!” But saying “More spin!” really talks about the result, not how to do so, which is what we want. Saying “Graze the ball!” is better, and may work when coaching spinny serves, but for looping is not as accurate unless you are teaching very slow, spinny loops, where you truly graze the ball. But for most looping, you sink the ball more into the sponge, and so grazing isn’t quite accurate.

The Chinese “mócā” seems more accurate, as here the key is to rub the ball, which more accurately describes a looping contact. Perhaps I should tell students to “Rub the ball!”? Perhaps, but somehow in English that doesn’t come off as well, though I might try it. Perhaps “Rub the ball, create friction!”? That’s a bit wordy, but more accurately reflects what’s wanted – and is basically the definition of “mócā.”

Since a large percentage of players at our club are Chinese, perhaps I should just start saying “mócā!”? The non-Chinese will quickly learn what it means. And then I can join the Chinese coaches with their chorus of “mócā!” But I’m told I still don’t pronounce it right, and my saying it will likely just elicit giggles from the Chinese kids and rolled eyes from the Chinese adults. Alas.

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English word


Unusual, but fun to say.

More Frictive!

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: English word

Frictive might just be the English word we want . . . for the 1% of English speakers who know what it means!