Sports Idioms

Sports Idioms

America is slowly coming around to enjoying soccer (or football, as the rest of the world calls it), but the three dominant sports remain football (American football, that is), baseball, and basketball. The American sports world is busy right now. College football just wrapped up with Clemson University surprising everyone by beating the University of Alabama to win the national championship. The New England Patriots are preparing to play the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, with Tom Brady appearing in his record 9th Super Bowl. The NBA is approaching the All Star Break, and college basketball is little more than a month away from March Madness. Baseball, commonly called America’s past time, gets started in less than 3 weeks, with pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training in Florida and Arizona to prepare for the upcoming season.

American English is full of sports idioms, with even those disinterested in sports using them every day, often unknowingly. While it is impossible to create a list of all of them, here’s a list of the most helpful sports idioms that would be hard for someone who didn’t grow up surrounded by American sports to know.

By far, baseball is the source of the most commonly used sports idioms, so we’ll start there.

  • “knock it out of the park” – to do a really good job
    • in baseball, when you hit the ball out of the park, it’s a homerun, which is an automatic run, or score; “Mustafa knocked it out of the park with his presentation to the board.”
  • “ballpark figure” – to estimate a figure with only relative, but acceptable, accuracy
    • this comes from estimating the crowd in attendance to watch the game at a ballpark; “Ümit estimated that 10 days was a good ballpark estimate for how long it would take to complete the project.”
  • “curveball” – when an unexpected issue arises
    • a curveball is a type of pitch in baseball that looks like it will go one way and then curves another and is very difficult to hit; “Azize had her quarterly projections ready until the new report threw her a curveball.”
  • “out of left field” – a comment or idea that seems to come from nowhere
    • left field is the part of the baseball field that is furthest from home plate, where the batter stands; “Gökhan’s idea seemed to come out of left field, and the rest of the team dismissed it.”
  • “step up to the plate” – to take responsibility for accomplishing a difficult task, especially when the timing is vital
    • when a batter is preparing to hit in baseball, he steps up to home plate to indicate he is ready to receive the pitch; “Ayşe stepped up to the plate and took control of the department when her supervisor suddenly resigned.”
  • “three strikes” – the number of times a person can make a mistake before action is taken (not a hard and fast rule)
    • a batter is “out” after he gets three strikes in baseball (either missing the ball when swinging, or not swinging when the ball is in the strike zone); “Can’s supervisor informed him that his poor performance was his third strike and she would soon begin disciplinary action.”

Basketball has provided far fewer commonly used idioms, but there are a couple worth knowing.

  • “slam dunk” – a very likely favorable outcome
    • a slam dunk is when a player “dunks” the ball directly into the rim, making it a hard shot to miss; “After Osman’s presentation, getting the funding for the project is a slam dunk.”
  • “on the rebound” – something or someone that is recovering after difficulty
    • after a shot is missed, gaining possession of the ball is called a rebound; “After weeks of decline, the lira is on the rebound”

We’ll wrap up with a random collection from other sports.

  • “fumble” – to make a mistake
    • in American football, if a player drops the ball, it is called a fumble and can be overtaken by the other team; “I really fumbled my presentation this morning.”
  • “throw in the towel” – to give up
    • in boxing, a boxer’s trainer will throw a towel in the ring to indicate the boxer cannot continue the fight; “After 6 months of losing money, Ramazan decided to throw in the towel and close his restaurant.”
  • “take the gloves off” – when behavior gets aggressive
    • in hockey, when a player removes his gloves, it means he’s preparing to punch another player; “Mehmet decided it was time to take the gloves off and get the deal done, no matter the cost.”

Have you heard any of these before and not known what they meant? Any important ones that we missed? Have a question about a sports idiom that you’ve heard but don’t understand? Leave a comment below!

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