Word Nerd: Curving, Carrying & Dropping Balls – 8 Fun Idioms You Should Know

16 Jan


In this Word Nerd, we are talking about balls, because, apparently, we talk about balls a lot! And not just in the context of sports. It is a common metaphor in politics, business, or any kind of conversation. Not surprising, given that humans have been preoccupied with balls for millennia.

There are handball drawings on tombs at Saqqara, hockey sketches on the tombs at Beni Hassan. In Ancient Greece, a culture with great emphasis on physical fitness, ballgames were an easy alternative to tough exercises. Homer spoke about Nausicaa, a princess, playing ball with her friends on the beach.

We’ve been playing some version of handball since the ancient times, hockey for possibly 4000 years, and cricket since the 16th century at least. Naturally, the ball is an important, ubiquitous object of our culture. It figures prominently in the language as well.

We list 8 idioms related to balls. Let’s get rolling, shall we?

  • “Ballpark estimate” or “In the ballpark”: A very rough approximation.
    A ballpark is a baseball ground. It is also the range of a guess. So if you’re thinking of an MBA degree from a mid-range college in the US, your tuition fees could be in the ballpark of 50,000 USD per year.
  • “Carry the ball”: To take responsibility
    The ball being the focal point of most games. Here, it becomes a metaphor for a key responsibility. The opposite is to “drop the ball”, which implies making a mistake. Think of dropping the ball at deep backward point. Not good.
  • “Play ball”: To cooperate; fall in with somebody else’s plans.
    This idiom has slightly negative connotations. It suggests that you do not agree with, or approve of, the plans. “Blake was a key witness in the accident. But he was paid to shut up & play ball. So, no one was sentenced.”
  • “Curveball”: A surprising or unforeseen development.
    The idiom is inspired from baseball. A curveball is something that life often throws at us. Like that Algebra question from the chapter you didn’t prepare.
  • “Get the ball rolling” (and then to keep it rolling): Start something.
    Fairly self-explanatory. It’s a phrase slightly overused at the start of meetings, and other corporate events. You start something, you have to keep it going; you can’t drop it. Adulthood isn’t all that it’s made out to be!
  • Behind the eight ball”: At a disadvantage.
    Originates from the game of billiards. In the game, if the cue ball is behind the eight ball, a player has no shots. “Lila has been down with flu for a week. She’s really going to be behind the eight ball at class when she returns.”
  • The ball is in your court”: It is for you to make the next move.
    This term comes from tennis. You serve & then it is your opponent’s turn. A great metaphor for social dynamics too.“Darcy let Lizzie know how he feels. Now the ball is in her court.” You can just imagine Lydia say that to her friends.
  • That’s the way the ball bounces”: That is the way life is. That’s fate.
    Something people say by way of commiserating, when the ball has bounced in a wonky fashion. Or, when things have not gone to plan. It happens fairly frequently as life goes on. Find a way to deal.

Any other ball-related idioms you or your folk are fond of using? Email us or leave a comment below.

Read other Word Nerd posts here.

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Cool Career: How to Become a Sport Psychologist

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