Thursday, August 5, 2021

SPORTING WORDS AND PHRASES, PART 1

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There was occasion yesterday when someone used the expression “jump the gun” in an email. It started me wondering as to the origin of that phrase. The first thing that came to mind is that it might have started akin to the practice in some backwoods areas of the US were, in the absence of a preacher, couples could marry by jumping over a broom three times. The actual origin was much more logical and, like a magic trick revealed, made a lot more sense and made me wonder how I had ever questioned it in the first place.

It also prompted me to look up the origins of some other sporting words and phrases, and those which have come from sports and passed into wider usage, quite appropriate at this time with the Olympics being one? Is anyone watching? I am here and there.

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Some origins . . .
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Jump the gun:


Meaning:

Start something too soon or early, especially without thinking; do something before it should be done

Origin:

This phrase originated from track and field races and was known since the early 1900s. It refers to athletes starting the race before the gun was fired (which was used to signal to start of the race). This phrase was preceded in America by “beat the gun”.

The use of 'jump' derives from the 'make a sudden, unexpected movement' meaning of the word. This usage is apparent in earlier phrases 'jump someone's claim' and 'jump ship' and the later (mid 20th century) 'jump the queue'.
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Carry the ball:

Meaning:

Take charge, advance a cause.

Origin:

This usage comes from such sports as football, where the ball-carrying player gives the team yardage or a touchdown. By the early 1900s it was being transferred to other endeavours.

The inventor of basketball, Dr. James Naismith, stands in a field carrying a ball and a basket.

By the way:

Naismith, a Canadian professor of physical education and instructor at the International Young Men's Christian Association Training School (now Springfield College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented the game in 1891. Trying to keep his gym class active on a rainy day, he sought a vigorous indoor game to keep his students occupied and at proper levels of fitness during the long New England winters. After rejecting other ideas as either too rough or poorly suited to walled-in gymnasiums, he invented a new game in which players would pass a ball to teammates and try to score points by tossing the ball into a basket mounted on a wall. Naismith wrote the basic rules and nailed a peach basket onto an elevated track. Naismith initially set up the peach basket with its bottom intact, which meant that the ball had to be retrieved manually after each "basket" or point scored. This quickly proved tedious, so Naismith removed the bottom of the basket to allow the balls to be poked out with a long dowel after each scored basket.
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Down and out:

Meaning:

Lacking money or prospects; penniless or destitute.

Origin:

The phrase comes from boxing. A boxer who is "down" has been knocked to the canvas, and one who is also "out" is unconscious or unable to resume the fight; thus a down-and-out boxer is utterly defeated. It dates from the 19th century. Since the early 20th century the phrase “down and out: has been used to describe a person without money, a job, or a place to live.

Once I lived the life of a millionaire, spendin' my money I didn't have a care
I carried my friends out for a good time, buying bootleg liquor, champagne and wine
When I begin to fall so low, I didn't have a friend and no place to go
So if I ever get my hand on a dollar again, I'm gonna hold on to it 'til them eagles grin
Nobody knows you, when you down and out
In my pocket not one penny, and my friends I haven't any

- Lyrics from 1929 blues standard “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Bessie Smith

Hear it by clicking on:


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Down for the count; out for the count:

Meaning:

To be defeated.

Origin:

This phrase is also from boxing, referring to a boxer being knocked down. The referee will count off ten seconds, the time allotted for the boxer to regain his feet or lose the fight. Down for the count may imply a temporary setback, as down does not necessarily imply out.

The earliest use in print is in the Newark Daily Advocate newspaper, 1900:

“Jack root, the undefeated middleweight of Chicago at Tattersall’s obtained the decision over Dick O’Brien of Lewiston, Maine, at the end of six rounds, after one of the fiercest battles ever witnessed in this city. O’Brien was in poor condition or probably the result would have been different, as he had Root down for the count three times in the second round.”

One of the most iconic images of a fighter down:
Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on May 25, 1965, in the first minute of the first round of the heavyweight fight. Ali died in 2016.
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Down to the wire:

Meaning:

To the very end or last minute.

Origin:

The expressions stems from horse racing and refers to the length of wire stretched across a racetrack at the finish line. It dates from about 1900. Before the days of electronic measurement and photo finishes the method adopted in the 19th century to decide the winner of a close race was to string a wire across the track above the finishing line.

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Drop the ball:


Meaning:

To make an error, to miss an opportunity.

Origin:

In games where a ball may be legally caught (e.g. baseball) or carried (e.g. American football), a player (or the player's team) may be penalized for dropping the ball; for example, an American football player who drops a ball ("fumbles") risks having the ball recovered and carried by the other team; in baseball, a player who drops a thrown or batted ball may be charged with an error. In Australia in Rugby League, dropping the ball is known as a knock on (knocked forward), resulting in what often looks like a curious bonding ritual known as a scrum.


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