Jewish World Review April 3, 2003 / 30 Adar II, 5763

Richard Lederer

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Play Ball! | The poet Walt Whitman wrote that "language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers but is something arising out of the work, needs ties, joys, affections, tastes of long generations of humanity." Because sports occupy such a central place in American life and imagination, athletic metaphors pervade our speech and writing. There's a democratic poetry in the sporty phrases that teem our tongues, and these expressions are vivid emblems of the games that we, as an American people, watch and play.

In the early days of the 20th century (remember that one?), a college professor explained, "To understand America, you must understand baseball." Not only is baseball America's pastime but the most pervasive athletic metaphor in the American language. Whether or not we're fans, we speak baseballese just about every day, and all year round.

Fill in each blank below with a common word or phrase that has its origins in baseball. Don't worry. I won't throw you any curveballs. In fact, right off the bat, I'll offer an example for you to bat around: "I know you won't quit. You'll always be IN THERE PITCHING."

  1. We're not making a bit of progress with this project. We can't even get to _____.
  2. You are so out of it. You're way out there in _____.
  3. Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, while others are born with _____ against them.
  4. Everybody's so enthusiastic about your proposal. You just hit a _____.
  5. I know you can't give me an exact price, but can you give me a _____ figure?
  6. These people are really serious. They play _____.
  7. On Broadway, the new musical "The Producers" has been a _____.
  8. I promise I'll consult you before I make any decisions. I'll be sure to _____ with you.
  9. I can't meet you today, but I'd like to in the near future. Would you mind if I took a _____?
  10. Let's act quickly. Let's do it right _____.
  11. She's such a wild and wacky woman - a real _____.
  12. Throckmorton is away at a conference, so we're going to have Gump _____ for him.
  13. That performance was great. It was a _____ performance.
  14. They're chintzy, they're inexperienced; they're incompetent. They run a _____ operation.
  15. Greg will stay single for the rest of his life. Rather than settling down, he prefers to _____.







1. first base 2. left field 3. two strikes 4. home run 5. ballpark 6. hardball 7. smash hit 8. touch base 9. rain check 10. off the bat 11.screwball 12. pinch-hit 13. major league 14. bush league/minor league 15. play the field

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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Richard Lederer