Words have meanings and generate actions and deeds. A poor choice of words is a common way to get poor results, and the sports field industry is full of misnomers and misuses. Sometimes these slang terms can be useful, and we all use slang — it’s word-efficient.

But we have to be careful when using them in a professional discussion. Some turfgrass slang we should just ditch altogether. Some of my favorite examples include:

“Is it a sand or soil field?”

Sand is soil. But how many times have you heard that distinction? There are three types of soil separates important to turfgrass culture based on size: sand, silt and clay. Today’s “sand-based” fields are grown in soil. A sand. Or they may be described as a “native” soil fields, which is usually some type of existing site soil, perhaps modified or amended. You already should know your soil texture and classification. Now we can talk about which is better, a sand or a loamy sand on a football field, and actually understand each other. Specifications written for soil and sod are where we see the worst consequences of turf slang.

Resistance and tolerance

Especially when it comes to drought and traffic. Tall fescue is often touted as being more drought-tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass, when it is actually more drought-resistant. Tall fescue is a bunch grass essentially, and Kentucky bluegrass is a true rhizotomous grass. You can take tall fescue farther down a single drought event without noticeable damage than you can Kentucky bluegrass. It generally has a deeper, more massive root system that allows it to mine water deeper in the soil than Kentucky bluegrass can. You can achieve acceptable-quality turf on less water with tall fescue. But after a prolonged drought event which grass do you believe will come back when wetter conditions return? That’s right, Kentucky bluegrass, which can regrow from vigorous and true underground rhizomes that are better protected against desiccation than the crown. This is drought tolerance in my mind, and there is an important distinction.

Same with traffic

If traffic resistance was all we wanted in a high-traffic field, then we would probably try growing buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides). Slow to establish, it is tough as nails.

But once played on, it could take months or even years for the divots to repair through re-growth. It has good traffic resistance, but very poor traffic tolerance.



Maybe my all-time favorite. There is no part of anyone’s environment that is chemical-free, unless maybe you are in a vacuum like deep space. We are made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. Come on…


In the world of science, this generally means “containing carbon” or “carbon-based.” Technically, some of our nastiest chemicals in terms of human health are organic chemicals. Agent Orange, anyone? There is a food-crop standard that has been developed for certified “organic” farms, but this only applies to food crops, not turfgrass management. And while there are organizations working to establish national “organic” land-care standards, it is generally misunderstood in turfgrass management. I don’t believe that the organic food-crop standard can be successfully applied to a high-traffic athletic turf because of the relatively high nitrogen requirements of such a turf compared with most food crops. I would rather play on a field that was professionally treated with a small amount of ammonium sulfate than on a field that just had a large amount of bat guano dropped on it, trying to get enough available N and calling it “organic.”

Are we making mistakes when we call any alternative artificial turf infill material that is not crumb rubber an “organic infill”?

These are just a few examples of how the use of slang words and misnomers in a technical profession can create confusion and even lead to expensive mistakes.There are many more out there. Slang can be useful, but we should use it carefully.