Talking the Talk: Figures of (Sports) Speech

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

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The United States bears a deserved reputation as a sports-obsessed nation. We love our sports so much that when we can’t play the actual games, we even play board games and fantasy games designed to mimic them.

It’s worth remembering, though, that not everyone considers themselves sports fans, even in a state with a sports history as rich as that of Kansas. For every die-hard Jayhawk or Wildcat, every person who lives and breathes the Hornets or Shockers, there’s someone else who has to Google each of the universities’ mascots every fall just to keep them straight.

But even if you don’t own a favorite athlete’s jersey or spend your evenings watching ESPN, sports still have a way of infiltrating all aspects of life in the U.S. Sports are some of the most popular topics for books, movies and T.V. shows, and many colleges and universities now offer courses in sports statistics.

Sports have even managed to insert themselves into the way we talk. In fact, so many common figures of speech originated in sports that we hardly notice them anymore.

Some are pretty obvious, once they’ve been pointed out. Make sure you “cover all the bases” so that you don’t “strike out” on that proposal at work (baseball). And if your co-worker “drops the ball” (baseball), it’s probably polite not to be a “Monday-morning quarterback” (football, obviously) and point out all the things you would have done differently.

Others are a little more obscure. If “the ball is in your court,” you’re referring to the game of tennis. Ever been “saved by the bell”? You weren’t referring to the famous T.V. show from the early 1990s; you were making a boxing reference. And if you’re exhausted and ready to “throw in the towel,” that’s boxing, too.

In other words, whether you’re a sports fan or not, sports are a common feature of everyday life in Kansas.

You might say they’re just par for the course.