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Jewish World Review
August 13, 2008
/ 12 Menachem-Av 5768
Our Sporty English Language
Sometimes it seems that almost all Americans either play sports or watch them. Because sports occupy such a central place in American life and imagination, athletic metaphors pervade our everyday speech and writing. There is indeed a kind of democratic poetry in the sporty metaphors that make our English language so athletic, and these metaphors are vivid emblems of the games that we, as a people, watch and play.
To take one sport from the Olympics, straight from the shoulder, boxing metaphors pull no punches in our language. When fate has us on the ropes and is hitting us with low blows in a knockdown, dragout fight, we can take it on the chin, get knocked for a loop, go down for the count, or throw in the towel or sponge; or we can roll with the punches, beat our opponent to the punch, come out swinging, or be saved by the bell. When political candidates enter a political race, they "throw their hat in the ring." This popular expression, dating back to the nineteenth century, is said to spring from the custom of throwing a hat in a boxing ring to signal acceptance of a pugilist's challenge.
Okay, sports fans and Olympics devotees. How many sports and games can you find hidden in the following passage?:
When the chips are down and the situation is up for grabs because our opponent is tossing in a red herring, we must knuckle down, hold the line, call the shots, hit the bullseye, get on a roll, get the ball rolling, take the bull by the horns with no holds barred, and put the ball in the other guy's court. Otherwise, we may end up jumping the gun, not up to par, down and out, out in left field, behind the eight ball, barking up the wrong tree, coming a cropper, taking the bait hook, line, and sinker, or facing a sticky wicket.
Twenty-one sports and games are represented:
When the chips are down (poker) and the situation is up for grabs (basketball) because our opponent is tossing in a red herring (fox-hunting), we must knuckle down (marbles), hold the line (football), call the shots (billiards), hit the bullseye (archery), get on a roll (dicing), get the ball rolling (soccer), take the bull by the horns (rodeo), with no holds barred (wrestling), and put the ball in the other guy's court (tennis). Otherwise, we may end up jumping the gun (track), not up to par (golf), down and out (boxing), out in left field (baseball), behind the eight ball (pool), barking up the wrong tree (coon hunting), coming a cropper (horse racing), taking the bait hook, line, and sinker (fishing), and facing a sticky wicket (cricket).
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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. His latest work is Presidential Trivia: The Feats, Fates, Families, Foibles, and Firsts of Our American Presidents
© 2008, Richard Lederer
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