‘Out of Left Field,’ ‘Big-league’ and Other Idioms that Come from Sports | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

‘Out of Left Field,’ ‘Big-league’ and Other Idioms that Come from Sports

We can easily guess that the phrase “front-runner” comes from racing, or that “the ball’s in your court” comes from tennis. But did you know that “across the board,” “hands down” and “there’s the rub” are all figures of speech that originated from sports? How does a sports term go on to become an idiom?

Katherine Martin, head of U.S. Dictionaries at Oxford University Press joins the Morning Shift to talk about this phenomenon, which was first reported in the New York Times.

How did baseball idioms become so prevalent in the U.S.?

Katherine Martin: Think about baseball--how many games there are...in a baseball season, and all of the baseball announcers over time who are giving the play-by-play, all the sports articles that are written about all of those games in all of those cities across the United States. That’s a lot of words being used….and even if you don’t care about baseball at all, you know that getting a home run is good and striking out is bad.

More recent sports idioms

Martin: In recent years, we’re seeing more terms from other popular sports, like football and basketball come in. One recently that I’ve seen is the use of “to call an audible,” meaning when a quarterback changes a play at the line of scrimmage. We’re seeing that used metaphorically to mean when you change strategy on the fly.

GUEST: Katherine Martin, head of U.S. Dictionaries at Oxford University Press

LEARN MORE: We Use Sports Terms All the Time. But Where Do They Come From? (New York Times 8/6/18)

List of sports idioms (Wikipedia, last edited 5/3/18)

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