So again we encounter confusion between “heart” and “hard.” What do these students do with the expression “hard-hearted,” I wonder?
I suppose when a team does really, really badly, or when a sure win suddenly turns to a last-second loss, the fans’ hearts die a bit. As they leave the stadium, do they feel die-hearted? Or maybe once their hearts die they are dead-hearted? It’s true that I have left my share of football, basketball, and soccer games amid a crowd that felt like a funeral procession….
Of course I knew what he meant. He was referring—and doing so admiringly, I might add, which is why I’m sure—to die-hard fans, those whose faith in the team dies hard (doesn’t want to die), those who cheer and sing lustily to encourage the guy who gets the ball at his feet deep in his own territory with a good fifty yards to travel through a rapidly advancing defensive line and three seconds on the clock; or yell and and wave their pennants for the last man at bat facing a 3-2 count and a score of 12-0 in the bottom of the ninth. And then go home yelling “We’ll get ’em next time!” A die-hard fan doesn’t give up. Webster’s identifies the word more with political or social determination, a refusal to yield to change; but of course sports fans can be just as stubborn, and just as ferocious.
Those die-hearted fans, though, would be just the opposite, I guess. Their faith quails as soon as the tide turns against the team; they can feel the old pump begin to stutter and flutter when a goal is scored against them in the first quarter. They do not wave their pennants, they do not cheer: they sink onto the bench and put their heads in their hands, or else they begin the long sad trek to the parking lot.
I like this new term. I don’t know whether I’d prefer the company of a die-hard or a die-heart—both seem disinclined to consider reality—I guess it would depend on what they’re die-hard or die-hearted about. I just like imagining saying to some pessimist, “Oh, don’t be such a die-heart!” If I pronounce my words carefully enough (as the speakers my students have heard evidently did not), I might make a point!