I taught English as a second language for a couple of years just after college, and my students could never get enough of idioms and metaphors. By the time they had me as a teacher, most of them had been studying the basics of the language for a while; they really wanted a native speaker to tell them the origin of strange sayings such as “pee like a racehorse” and how to use it in the right context.
I wish I had Josh Chetwynd’s The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors back then. Chetwynd has collected the origin stories of dozens of metaphors that come to us from athletic pursuits, organized them according to sport, and put them between the covers of a neat, small hardback.
The source of some metaphors are obvious. But sometimes you think a metaphor comes from one sport and it really comes from another, like “hat trick” (cricket, not hockey) and “second wind” (boxing, not running). The most interesting aspect to the book is the occasional metaphor that doesn’t sound like it could trace its origin to sports at all, but does. For example, the phrase “catbird seat” to describe a particularly advantageous situation can be traced to famed baseball broadcaster Red Barber. Shakespeare got the phrase “there’s the rub” from lawn bowling. And “my bad” comes from Sudanese NBA player (and English-language learner) Manute Bol.
I read this book straight through, but it would work much better as a reference. Reading it from beginning to end, some of the origin stories can start to seem repetitive and I needed the occasional surprise to keep me going. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered about why we use the metaphors and idioms we do, especially sports fans.
Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
2 thoughts on ““My Bad,” and Other Sports Metaphors: A Review”
I think “my bad” pre-dates Manute Bol. One of Dick’s friends used it in the 1960’s (when Manute Bol was a little boy) and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t original with him.
After a little further research (here: http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wordroutes/the-manute-bol-theory-of-my-bad/), it seems more likely that Bol popularized it than that he invented it.
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