Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Paul Dickson says in his introduction to The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, "The influence of baseball on American English at large is stunning and strong." No other sport has contributed so richly to American English as baseball.
Slang terms (as distinct from jargon) have evolved a usage and meaning independent of baseball and are often used by those with little knowledge of the game. Many of these terms are deeply entrenched in the American psyche.
The following are common American slang terms, each of which derived from baseball jargon or baseball slang:
- bench clearer -- a physical brawl. Refers to a fight between two teams onfield, in which the dugouts of both teams are emptied and everyone participates in a free-for-all. Originated from the semi-annual phenomenon of Red Sox - Yankees fights.
- big show -- The major leagues.
- the breaks -- luck and good fortune
- bush or bush league -- amateurish, unprofessional, or inferior. The term was originally a slang reference to minor league baseball, with the implication that something was not ready for wide exposure and competition.
- can of corn -- an easy accomplishment
- catch napping -- caught off guard. Originally a term for when a pitcher or catcher throws to an occupied base and puts out a runner who is taking a lead and not paying attention to activity on the mound. Also "catch leaning;" the thrown-out runner can also be said to be cut down or picked off.
- charley horse -- a muscle cramp in the lower leg
- chin music -- a sock on the jaw. (May also come from gangster slang. Refers to a beanball (see above) or knockdown pitch that passes close to the batter's jaw.
- clutch, in the clutch - the ability to do well when the pressure is on, or when it really counts (e.g. the bottom of the 9th, with bases loaded and two outs, when the team is about to lose.) Refers to the controversial belief in the phenomenon of clutch hitting, an uncharted variable in baseballfor which no reliable statistical formula has yet been devised.
- crackerjack -- a really good player or team.
- cup of coffee -- had a brief fling with fame or success, but blew it. Reference to having played briefly in the Major or Minor leagues, as in "He had a cup of coffee once."
- curveball -- a surprise. The curveball is a pitch in baseball designed to fool the batter by dropping unexpectedly.
- drop the ball -- to fail in one's responsibilities. A reference to fielding, when catching a fly ball is expected to be easy.
- foot in the bucket -- to act timidly
- get to first base, second base, third base, hit it out of the park -- various degrees of sexual conquest. hit it out of the park can also mean getting something right with spectacular results.
- "going, going, gone" -- dramatic description of anything departed. This phrase is used when a home run is hit, most famously by baseball announcer Harry Caray.
- in jeopardy -- (of a batter-runner or base runner) at risk of being thrown out because a ball is in play. Probably comes from legal terminology.
- hit and run -- anything that strikes quickly and then abruptly departs. This originally refers to a play in which a base runner starts to advance to the next base when the ball is pitched (similar to a stolen base), with the batter instructed to try to hit the ball (to prevent the runner being thrown out).
- "It ain't over 'till it's over" is a famous quotation from baseball player Yogi Berra; one of many yogiisms
- jim-dandy -- admirable or superior
- left field -- unusual, unexpected, or irrational
- Lou Gehrig's disease -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), named after the famed New York Yankee who had the disease
- muff -- to screw up [transitive]
- "Nice guys finish last" -- a misquote of a statement made by Leo Durocher
- offbase -- out of line, working on faulty assumptions. In baserunning, being offbase is a mistake that could lead to a runner being put out.
- out in left field -- odd, out of it, space-case
- out of left field -- an argument or claim that appears difficult to imagine without prior knowledge
- pinch hitter -- substitute. In baseball, having another player take one's place at bat is a pinch hitter.
- rain check -- in the event of cancellation, an invitation that may be renewed at a later date. Baseball games are cancelled for rain, but must be rescheduled.
- rhubarb -- a noisy or heated argument between players or between one or more umpires and players. Can also refer to a difficult situation for a team to get out of.
- "Say it ain't so, Joe!" -- an expression of disbelief. A reference to the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
- screwball -- eccentric, zany, or crazy. The screwball is a pitch that is intended to behave erratically -- it "breaks" in the opposite direction a curveball would break. (This pitch has a bad effect on the arm and is not often used.) Its most famous users were both New York Giants--Carl Hubbell and Christy Mathewson (who called it the "fadeaway" pitch.)
- southpaw -- a left-handed person. To avoid the sun shining into the eyes of a batter during the afternoon, every ballfield was built with center field aligned due east of home plate. Thus, a right-handed pitcher's throwing hand would point north when he stood facing the batter; accordingly, a left-hander was called a "southpaw".
- step up to the plate -- to rise to an occasion in life. Refers to taking a turn at bat.
- strike out -- to fail completely
- swings both ways or switch-hitter -- slang forbisexual. Refers to players who are capable of hitting as a left-handed or right-handed batter.
- walk -- an acquittal given to a defendant
- wait til next year -- simultaneous expression of hope and nihilism, first used by Chicago Cubs fans in reference to their various attempts to win the World Series since 1908.
- whiffleball, whiff, whiff out -- when a pitcher strikes out a batter because the batter makes poor swings, OR when a batter makes a weak hit that goes straight to the mound.
- whole new ball game -- a new start
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