Mom favored for Sap-o-Meter gold

Slate has a scientific method for measuring the mawkishness of NBC's coverage.

Published August 19, 2008 8:30PM (EDT)

I've been on the edge of my seat for quite a few contests, but even Michael Phelps' hundredth of a second in the 100-meter butterfly can't hold a candle to the most thrilling event Beijing has to offer: The battle for Sappiest Word of the Olympics.

Our friends at Slate are tracking 33 syrupy words, derived from close study of earlier Olympics coverage, to see which gets uttered the most times during NBC's prime-time show. The leader through Monday night: mom, with 70 mentions. But dream, the leader until the weekend, did big numbers Monday and moved back within striking range -- especially now that Phelps' Olympics are over -- with 65.

Slate is measuring all this with its proprietary Sap-o-Meter, which monitors closed-caption text for the 33 bathetic words, which also include the likes of sacrifice, determination, proud, golden, miracle and the three T's: tears, tragedy and triumph. If you've watched any of the Olympics so far, I defy you to read those last three words, in that order, without hearing Al Trautwig's voice in your head.

The Sap-o-Meter gives each night's broadcast a score, which is simply the cumulative mentions of the 33 words. Monday's score was 51. The record so far is 64, set on Sunday, when there were 18 mentions of motherhood, vaulting mom into first place. But note that not every broadcast is the same length.

Dream or mom, mom or dream. Oh, man, this is what the Olympics are all about. This is the magic, the memory, the glory and the inspiration.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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