Monday, May 9, 2016

The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors, by Josh Chetwynd

Years ago, when my kids competed in judo tournaments, I had a revelation.  I had heard the phrase "no holds barred" and didn't really have a grasp of what it means.  As I learned about my boys' chosen sport, I realized that certain "holds" are "barred" in judo, and that a "no holds barred" match might reach a conclusion more quickly, but would be risky and dangerous for both parties.  Thus the phrase applies to "no-restriction efforts in most everything else" besides judo, wrestling, and other combat sports.

In The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors: A Compendium of Competitive Words and Idioms, Josh Chetwynd points out how many of these types of phrases have worked their way into everyday language, so much so that we are often ignorant of the phrases' origin in sports.  Chetwynd takes the phrases or words sport by sport, providing a bit of history, etymology, and, in some cases, discussing competing claims.  This is great for someone interested in the language, but also for lovers of sports trivia.

My favorites were the "unexpected phrases" from sports.  "Flake" and "jazz" are baseball terms?  Who knew?  Not me.  "My bad"?  I always associated that with basketball, but didn't know its origins from a Dinka tribesman who played in the NBA.  How about "there's the rub"?  Shakespeare, right?  Yes, but where did Shakespeare get it?  Lawn bowling!  That's just a sampling, of course.  A nice feature is the handy index.  Is there a phrase or word you suspect is derived from sports?  Check the index.  The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors is a treasure trove for lovers of the English language, as well as for lovers of sports.

(On minor quibble on the Kindle edition.  Some of the phrase were discussed in block quotes, separate from the main text.  In the electronic version, sometimes these did not show up correctly, causing abrupt shifts in the text and wild goose chases to resume the correct paragraph.  I have an ERC; perhaps the Kindle version for sale will have corrected this.)

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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