Archive for December, 2010

More Discussion of Baseball Idioms

December 29, 2010

Ballpark figures in the idiomatic sense are rough estimates of something.  To knock something out of the park is similar to a home run, but more so.  It is similar to a touchdown in football as it puts a score on the scoreboard.

Out of left field or in left field is difficult because it is so far removed from the original ballpark term that it doesn’t really make sense: A hit to left field may really be quite good, but out of left field “describes an idea that sounds irrelevant, even crazy.  Paul Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary cites several explanations, notably that when the Chicago cubs moved to Wrigley Field, the site of their old park was developed by the University of Illinois, which built a mental hospital in–where else?–left field.”  (On Language, by Jack Rosenthal)

Groupon’s $6 Billion Gambler

December 24, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, Sunday, December 18-19, 2010


THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Andrew Mason, by Bari Weis

Mr. Mason, the CEO of Groupon (group and coupon) is “in the news for reportedly turning down a $6 billion buyout offer from Google–almost double the search giant’s most expensive acquisition to date,” perhaps “the Next Big Thing.”

“The plan starts with personalizing the deals subscribers see,” and still sees the deal of the day…”

“There is also the possibility that Groupon has taken off in the middle of a new tech bubble.  Some analysts argue that social-networking sites are overvalued–Groupon included.”

Is Mr. Mason a gambler? What kind of stakes is he playing for?

Bipartisan Vote on Arms Treaty Clears a Hurdle

December 24, 2010

The New York Times, Wednesday, December 22, 2010

by Peter Baker

Bipartian Vote Clears the Final Hurdle for a Nuclear Treaty with Russia

“The Senate voted 67 to 28 to end debate on the treaty, known as New Start, mustering the two-thirds majority needed for ratification despite a concerted effort by Republican leaders to sink an agreement.”

“Today’s bipartison vote clears a significant hurdle in the Senate,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts…”

Runners clear hurdles (jumping over obstacles) as they continue running in some “track and field” events.  Horses and horseback riders do the same thing.  The hurdles for the Democrats and President Obama in this political initiative were the Republicans.

Moving Target, Cliff Lee, Superstar Pitcher

December 20, 2010

Wall Street Journal, December 18-19:  REVIEW, by Joe Queenan

Philadelphia to New York: Drop Dead                                                                                             (With a picture of a bulls-eye target with arrows)

“THE STUNNING DECISION by lefty superstar Cliff lee to spurn the New York Yankees’$250 million offer and sign with the Philadelphia Phillies for $30 million less has spawned the usual wisecracks about the City of Brotherly Love.”

Mr. Queenan compares Philadelphia and New York sarcastically, playing to his readers questions about pitcher Lee’s choice.

Actually, the drawing of a standing target next to the article’s lead sentence is not correct;  a standing target does not move unless an arrow is unleashed with such force as to knock it over.  A moving target is usually a bird, a plane, or a clay pidgeon shot at by hunters or in by opponents in a war. The idiom in this article refers to Mr. Lee simply moving to Philadelphia.

How to Level A Playing Field

December 20, 2010

New York Times, Friday, December 17, 2010

UPS Advertisement:  How to Level A Playing Field

This UPS (United Parcel Service) ad emphasizes logistics for large and small companies, and that UPS can serve small companies just as efficiently as large ones, thereby “leveling the field” for all companies.  “This is a time”, says Dr. Lucius Riccio, professor at Columbia Business School, “when the smallest companies can compete with the largest ones–sometimes with the advantage of being more nimble and quicker to seize opportunities.”

From UPS:  the closing sentence in the ad states, “See how we can level the playing field for you. Visit the”

This idiom, level the playing field, is a sports idiom used primarily in business and in war, but could be used in many other instances.  A  level playing field is fairer for the opponents because it is flat.   For samples of sentences, please go to

The Sport of Cutting

December 17, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, December 16, 2010  (A 1, front page)

Rodeo Drive:  Rich Urban Cowboys On Fine Horses Best Ranch Hands

In Sport of Cutting, Naysayers Eat Their Stetsons Over Ex-Bankers’ Success

by Kevin Helliker


“When he was a titan of Wall Street, Thomas H. Bailey didn’t even know how to mount a horse.

Yet since retiring as chief executive of Janus Capital Group Inc. in 2002, Mr. Bailey has become a rising star in the cowboy sport of cutting.”

Cutting is a sport originally of ranch hands in the west, of cowboys and cowgirls, yes, cowgirls who often compete in the sport and who take over some of the ranch duties when the men are off at war or an extra hand is needed.  To “cut” a steer or a calf out of the herd, one needs a trained cowhorse bred to do the job.  From the article I can’t tell if Mr. Bailey used a lariat to rope the calf/steer or he simply cut it out of the herd and then used the horse by dashing “side to side to prevent the animal from rejoining the herd.”  Normally, western cowboys use a lariat to catch a cow, wrap the rope around the saddle horn, the horse stops, he/she jumps off and ties up the calf’s legs.  Often two cowboys do this together on a ranch, but not necessarily in a competition.

However, Mr. Bailey has earned nearly $90,000 in the sport and Matt Gains, a champion cutter has earned $5.7 million, according to the article.  I have mixed feelings about “urban cowboys” getting into the sport; how are  ranch hands going to win in a sport that is traditionally theirs?  I come from a family of cattlemen and women;  don’t like it.

However, for the idiomatic use:  If one cuts a firm or a person out of the deal, or cuts a person from a sports team, that person is out or the deal is lost.  I don’t think cutting/cuts in this sense has been related to western rodeo sports, but could be.  Don’t know.  Many idiomatic uses of sports or games metaphors are related to the sport they know best or a sport presently in the news.  For instance, ranchers bidding on a horse, a ranch or other, might cut another out of the deal by bidding higher.  (In the American College Dictionary cut/cutting has about a hundred uses; it can be a noun, a verb, and adjective.  It is used in other sports, such as football.)

Musing on the above, I happened to think of  ranch work, as opposed to rodeo sport: the young males are cut from the herd, then castrated so they grow into steers, not bulls, and branded with the ranch brand.

In reference to the lead of this article, In Sport of Cutting, Naysayers Eat Their Stetsons Over Ex-Bankers’ Success, a Stetson hat has been the western ranch hat of choice for generations.  Eat their hat is often a gambling term for a bet: if you win you take the winnings; if you lose you eat your hat.

In summary, “eat your hat” is definitely used in the idiomatic sense in the title.  “Cut a deal” would be, but “cutting a calf” is not, as it is the normal use to the verb.




The Game Plan: Saving for Retirement

December 16, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2010:

The Game Plan

How some people are saving for retirement–and what financial advisers thinkof those strategies

“The Game Plan takes a look at how indiviuals and families are saving for retirement–and then asks financial advisers to comment on those strategies.  You’re invited to share your own retirement-savings plans by sending and email to”

Juggling Several Retirement Plans

All sports and most games, including gambling, have game plans, plans for how to proceed.  For instance, a football team might discuss sample moves their opponent might use.  A casino may set their slot machines to return a calculated percentage to the house.

Juggling is a sport and a game.  Used as an idiomatic headline it immediately conveys to the reader that the subject couple’s retirement strategies have changed over the years, and probably will in the future.  They need to juggle their needs and resources over the years.  Juggling is a game/sport where the participants throw numbers of  items into the air, normally from hand to hand, but other parts of the body may be used.

One of the persons interviewed, Catherine Riordan, stated that retirement is “a moving target.  It’s a lot less predictable than I hoped it would be at this point in our lives.”

Like other idiomatic statements, a moving target, conveys the idea that Ms. Riordan needs to keep looking at what’s changing in her life, as a sportsman/hunter needs to adjust to a duck flying or a clay pidgeon being shot out of a gun.




Basketball Stars in the Mideast

December 10, 2010

Wall Street Journal, Friday, December 10, 2010

Global Hot Spot:  Hoops Stars Make a Fast Break for the Mideast

Good pay, Passionate Fans Lure U.S. Players to Region; Hoping for a Salaam Dunk

“Reasons for this emerging hoops hot spot include a global downturn, which has salaries in Europe way down from years past, and oil-rich emirs, who use basket ball to compete for social status.”

Basketball players make a fast break, running the length of the court towards the opponents’ basket,  hoping to score.

“Hoping for a Salaam Dunk” is a great play on words using the idiom  “slam  dunk”  for Salaam Dunk.  Salaam is the Arabic for “Peace”

“We used to be the team of all Muslims… says Tammar Jaroudi, a Riyadi team executive.  The Hariri case has hurt us with Shitte fans. He jokes that what Lebanon needs now is a ‘Salaam’ dunk.”

We all hope for “Salaam” on basketball courts and in the world.

Punting in The War of 1812

December 8, 2010

“The   C ivil War of 1812”, Alan Taylor:

“…in the end,  (U.S.) Congress punted on deciding  Canada’s future.  Indecision papered over Republican divisions and kept their options open pending the fortunes of war.”

In this case, the decisions on Canada were put off for a period.  In American football punting is the time the ball is turned over to the other side: offensive playing becomes defensive.

Punting on Taxes

December 2, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, Monday, November 22, 2010: Money Talks

During an interview with Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geither on taxes, China and “smoothing things over with business’, Gerard Baker asked Mr. Geither about the Bush tax cuts, due to expire on December 31, 2010.  Mr. Geither stated that the Obama administration would not like to extend “the high-end taxcuts” and that they are against  a permanent extension.”  There was then a statement by Mr. Baker about a temporary extension of the high-end taxes, “But if you don’t do something permanent, aren’t you just punting?  You’re just increasing the uncertainty, if you do end up with a two-year extension of the high-end tax.”

Punting is a football term for turning the ball over to the opposition.  For a fuller explanation go to and scroll down to punt.