Dickson: How baseball has changed the English language

From Paul Dickson at The National Pastime Museum on January 9, 2015:

As we wait for those magic words of February, “pitchers and catchers report today,” we can reflect that the influence of baseball on the English language is stunning, strong, and at what appears to be an all-time real and metaphoric high. Tough folks play “hardball,” save for when they relent and ask a few “softball questions.” Everyone seems to be willing to settle for a “ballpark figure,” and there are still a lot of folks who ask you to “touch base” with them. We sympathize with those who “can’t make it to first base” or are “out in left field.” Retailers who run out of sale items often offer us “rain checks.” Beginners are “rookies,” those who easily master a given skill are called “naturals,” and those who seem eccentric are labeled “screwballs.”

This creeping baseballese began its encroachment on the American language years ago. “No other sport and few other occupations have introduced so many phrases, so many words, and so many twists into our language as have baseball,” wrote Tristram Potter Coffin in his 1971 study of baseball folklore, The Old Ball Game. “The true test comes in the fact that old ladies who have never been to the ballpark, coquettes who don’t know or care who’s on first, men who think athletics begin and end with a pair of goalposts, still know and use a great deal of baseball-derived terminology.”

But Coffin wrote his book before the term “inside baseball” gained popularity outside baseball as a way of describing inner-sanctum goings on. It was also written in a simpler time when Yogi Berra was still a mere mortal. Today, he seems to be quoted—“It’s deja vu all over again,” “If you come to a fork in the road, take it,” etc.—more often than Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Bertrand Russell put together. It was also a time before baseball terms worked into international play via the World Wide Web—the term “southpaw” yields more than 6 million hits when entered into the Google search engine while “rookie” racks up more than 117 million.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/how-baseball-has-changed-english-language

Originally published: January 9, 2015. Last Updated: January 9, 2015.