In response to the rope-a-dope post, I received a clever email response couched in other sports analogies. I understood all but one: “yellow card.”
Naturally, I hopped on the search engine to find out what sport that referred to. I discovered that in the sport of soccer, colored cards are held up by the referee when a player commits a foul. The color of the card indicates the nature of the penalty appropriate to the type of foul that has been committed. One of the cards is yellow.
A soccer player who receives a red card or a black card is sent off the field. A player who is shown a yellow card continues to play, but has been cautioned that he’d better pay attention to his behavior.
Now I understand a blog headline that previously left me puzzled:
LIFE JUST HANDED ME A YELLOW CARD
The blogger had survived a heart attack.
The symbolism of soccer’s colored penalty cards has spread to other endeavors:
- London police are handing out soccer-style yellow cards to aggressive drinkers, banning them for 48 hours from their preferred drinking spots.
- In New York City, a comedian dressed like a soccer referee has been handing out red cards to pedestrians guilty of such transgressions as wearing the wrong shoes or taking selfies in inappropriate places.
- A female journalist has started a “red/yellow card project” to address harassment issues. She has designed cards that professional women can hand out to men who treat them inappropriately at conventions or in the workplace. The red card informs the recipient that he has done something “wildly inappropriate” and he’s lucky he got a card “and not a punch in the face.” The language on the yellow card is less confrontational:
If you have received this card, you have done something mildly inappropriate to the person who handed this to you. Your intentions might have been good, but before future engagement make sure that you are being respectful and mindful of people’s boundaries.
To a reader who understands the reference, to be told that someone was “shown the yellow card” is illuminating. For the reader who doesn’t know the expression, or the reader who is familiar with it in a different context, it’s another sports analogy that could be more confusing than enlightening.
Other contexts in which “yellow card” is or has been used:
Yellowcard, an American alternative rock band.
Yellow Card Scheme, a UK initiative concerning reactions to medicines.
Carte Jaune (Yellow Card), a vaccination certificate issued by the World Health Organization.
Yellow Card, nickname for the IBM System/370 Reference Summary booklet in the 1970s.
Correction and Clarification Update:
As the comments below point out, black cards are not used in soccer. (The card descriptions in this post are based on the rules for Gaelic football.) The most pertinent information to take away is that when the term “yellow card” is used figuratively, it signifies a warning. On a secondary level, this post can serve to illustrate the fact that for some readers, sports analogies can be a source of confusion. The post can also serve as “a yellow card” to writers to take great care when researching a topic they know absolutely nothing about.