It's that time of year when college football and NFL fans start talking playoffs, and we inevitably see things like this:
"As we enter the final month of the regular season, Washington, of all teams, controls its own destiny to win a division crown."
"Michigan State controls its own destiny in the College Football Playoff."
"The Patriots still control their own destiny when it comes to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs."
Stop already. Saying a team "controls its destiny" is the most misused phrase each football season. No one controls their destiny. As my 14-pound complete unabridged Webster's dictionary defines "destiny":
"The predetermined course of events ... something inevitable."
The Oxford dictionary states: "The events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future." It offers this helpful example: "She was unable to control her own destiny."
Your destiny is your destiny. You can't control it because it is set in stone. Yet, the misuse of the term is widespread on places like ESPN, SB Nation and practically every other sports website. I guess this is because a) the people saying it don't know the actual meaning and b) it's sounds like cool shorthand.
I'll admit that "controls their own destiny" sounds pithy and there is no easy shorthand. It also implies a fact while misusing a phrase. You can't say a team "controls it fate," since one's fate is predetermined. How about "controls their future"? Doubtful, though that leads to a philosophical debate over how much we can totally determine our future. "Control their playoff situation" is OK, but clunky.
What writers and broadcasters mean is that something certain will happen if a team simply wins the rest of its games. Do that, and nothing else any other team does matters. So why not just write: "The Chiefs will make the AFC playoffs if they win out." Or: "If the Patriots win their final five games, they are guaranteed home-field advantage in the playoffs." Both sentences are clear and concise. Granted, not as cool as "control their destiny" but grammatically and factually accurate.
Let's stop this misuse of the English language, unless its our destiny to have to endure it each football season.