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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What is the origin of the term "on the ball"?


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: on the ball origin

Why: We made a plan, and within seconds, I had tickets in my inbox.
Katrina: OMG YOURE ON THE BALL
is that phrasing even right? on the ball? what does that even mean>
4:50 PM me: its right, but i dont know
there was a poster in our library that said "Get on the ball and read"
wtf?
4:51 PM Katrina: i mean, i know it means to get on top of things. but why a ball?
me: let me google that for you
Answer: It is from baseball! It originally meant a pitcher had given the ball unusual speed or deceptive motion. In 1909, someone wrote: "Cates had something on the ball. The two innings he worked he had the Pirates buffaloed." In 1906, The Washington Post wrote:

He has simply arrived at the stage which all good pitchers dread. Ball players do not attempt to explain why these things are. They say: “He’s got speed and a curve, but, there’s ‘nothing’ on the ball.” This vague “nothing” is the thing. It means that the pitcher has lost that little “jump”, or some peculiar deceptive break with which he has fooled batters.

By the 1930s, the meaning had broadened to apply to someone who was "especially alert or capable." Maybe it came from the advice: "Always keep your eye on the ball."

Source: World Wide Words,

The More You Know: Other idioms that came from baseball:
  • Ballpark figure
  • Big leagues
  • Bush league
  • Cover your bases
  • Knock it out of the park
  • Out of left field
  • Play hardball
  • Right off the bat
  • Screwball
  • Step up to the plate
  • Three strikes
  • Touch base
  • Way off base
  • Whole new ball game

3 comments:

Bernard said...

There's a railroad watch enthusiast who claims that the saying originated from the Ball Watch Company standards.

See link:
http://www.oldrailroadwatches.com/ball_railroad_watches

Carly said...

So does the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which has a spire attached to a big red ball.

http://www.word-detective.com/090304.html

Buncha tourist traps.

Anonymous said...

We began a bike ride today in the town of Kipton, Ohio (about 25 southwest of Cleveland. In their city park was a historic marker about a tragic train wreck that killed 9 people, explanation of what caused the wreck, and further explanation of how the phrase "on the ball" began. The weblink provided above by Bernard is right on!

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