Sports Metaphors we Live by

A metaphor is an expressed figure of speech that characterizes an object by alleging that it is, using any point of comparability, similar or the same as a subject someone might not understand.  A metaphor is a kind of analogy and is very similar to other associated figures of speech that derive their developments from affiliation, correlation or similarities including allegory, hyperbole and simile.  An allegory is a broadened metaphor where a story shows a valued feature of the subject.  A hyperbole can be used to show intense emotion or to make a powerful effect but is not supposed to be taken word for word.  Finally, a simile is a figure of speech that honestly analyzes two opposite subjects, typically by using the words “like” or “as” or “if” or “than”.

What's a Metaphor For?

Some intellects have advocated that metaphors are not simply dramatic but mentally vital as well.  I remember having to read the book “Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson during my Intro to Philosophy class many years ago.  Lakoff and Johnson suggest that metaphors are omnipresent in daily life, not just in dialect but also in cognitive belief and functionality.  Another way to view a metaphor is as an association that illustrates how two items that aren’t similar in many ways are actually very alike in a different valuable way.  Lakoff and Johnson clarify how a metaphor is a simple comprehension and maintaining one subject in the context of another.  Lakoff and Johnson call this approach a “conduit metaphor”, meaning someone can place concepts or items into speech or “containers” then transmit them via a “pathway” or “conduit” (like an electrical wire) to the intended audience who grabs the concept or idea from the vessel and creates or adds value to it.  Intercommunication or verbal exchange can be the vessel where ideas and concepts fit into. The box is totally apart from the concepts.  Lakoff and Johnson offer a few illustrations of every day metaphors we use: “argument is war” and “time is money”.  Metaphors are broadly used in different circumstances to explain an individual definition.  The authors also advocate that verbal exchange can be seen as a machine.  “Communication is not what one does with the machine, but is the machine itself.” (Johnson, Lakoff, 1980).

Now that I’ve sucked the mental energy from all my readers, I will move on to the fun stuff.  Americans seem obsessed with using sports metaphors.  Even though you might not even participate in a particular sport, you might still use phrases like “out of the ball park” or “hit a home run” or “let’s touch base”.  These metaphors aren’t just reserved for sports talk but they are increasingly becoming a part of everyday conversation.  Have you ever been a part of a conversation that took on the form of a sports commentator from ESPN?  One minute you thought you were in a business meeting and the next, you thought you were in the presence of Lou Holtz from ESPN College football.  Some of these metaphors we use we might not even realize are originated from sports.  We have just picked them up during the course of our lives and use them in the daily context of our communication.

For those of you who would like to be “on base” with the rest of us sports metaphor enthusiasts, I will now include a list of specific sports metaphors followed by their meanings:

Metaphor Sports Usage Regular Usage Example
Blind-sidedSports: Football, Soccer, Hockey When the other team’s players do not notice a play because their view is obscured or they’re just not paying attention.  They get “blind-sided” or tackled or smacked with a ball. When an action is hidden from someone, usually by their being distracted by something else. “The decision to go ahead with that idea really blind-sided me.”
Carry the BallSports: Football, Basketball, Rugby, Hockey, Soccer To make forward progress with the ball without passing the responsibility to someone else. To take charge of something and do what is needed to get it done without leaning on someone else. “You really carried the ball when your boss was out on vacation.”
FumbleSport: Football When a player in possession of the football drops it before being tackled or scoring. Making a mess of something when responsibility is passed to you. “You really fumbled it up this time.”
Game Plan

Sport: Football

A strategy for an individual game.  The coach is responsible for researching the other team and planning how the game will be played. Objectives or goals that need to be carried out. “So what’s the game plan this time?”
A Big Hit

Sport: Baseball

When a player gets a fair hit which results in an RBI, a score or forward progress for their team. A big success. “Your new idea sure was a big hit.
Ballpark Figure

Sport: Baseball

An estimation of the number of people in attendance at a game. An approximation of a large number. “So after crunching the numbers, give me a ballpark figure.
Bases are Loaded

Sport: Baseball

When there is a player on 1st, 2nd and 3rd base, the next batter can achieve 4 runs if they can hit a home run. When the odds are very high but a chance presents itself to win. “Well, the bases are loaded.  I think you can do it!”
Covering all Bases

Spot: Baseball

Keeping a in-fielder close to each base to make it difficult for the runners to reach them safely. Making sure things are safe. Taking precautions for every contingency. “This is going to be success.  We’ve got all the bases covered.”
Getting to 1st, 2nd or 3rd base

Sport: Baseball

The first part of a player’s quest to score a run. Success on the dating front “He didn’t even get to first base!”
In a League of Their Own 

Clint Barmes and Ian Stewart - Colorado Rockies v Philadelphia Phillies, Game 2

Sport: Baseball

Too good, even for the best league. Clear leaders in their field. “That band is in a league of their own when it comes to talent!”
Off Base 

Sport: Baseball

When a runner leads away from a base, he is in a position where he could be tagged or thrown out. To be caught off guard or in a vulnerable position. “He was really off base when they hit him with that question.”
Out of the BallparkSport: Baseball A homerun, where the ball is batted out of the park. A fantastic result. “Those results were out of the ballpark!”
Playing Hardball

Sport: Baseball

Hardball is real baseball as opposed to Softball. Competing or participating without any consideration or mercy shown to other participants. “It’s time to play hardball!”
Rain Check

Sport: Baseball

When a game is cancelled because of rain, spectators were given a docket to allow them free entry to the rescheduled game. A person’s wish to be excused from attendance at a social or other event. “I’m going to have to take a rain check on it this time around.”
Right off the BatSport: Baseball As soon as the bat hits the ball. Something that happens right away Right off the bat I knew there was something wrong.”
Step up to the PlateSport: Baseball The batter hits from the plate.  A player must be ready to do their best when they step up to the plate. To take responsibility, to rise to the occasion and perform for your team or organization. “It’s time to stop messing around and step up to the plate.”
Three Strikes and You’re Out

Sport: Baseball

A batter is out if they have 3 strikes. In many situations, someone is given 3 chances until they’re no longer considered. “You know if you mess up again, it’ll be your third strike.
Touch Base

Sport: Baseball

A runner must touch every base before they can proceed to the next one. To keep in touch with people and ensure everyone has the same information and is on the same wavelength. “Have you touched base with everyone yet?”
Home Court/FieldAdvantage

Sports: Almost all sports

A team playing in their own area has a definite advantage because they know the area well and have the support of most of the attendance. Having an advantage over your opponent through being familiar with the venue. “Why don’t you just show us around seeing as you have the home court advantage.”
Slam DunkSport: Basketball When a player jumps in the air and thrusts the ball downward through the basket with one or both hands A sure thing “Man, that deal was a slam dunk!”
Beaten to the Punch

Sport: Boxing

Where one boxer gets his punch in before the other gets a chance to land his punch. To act before someone else and gain an advantage. “It looks like they beat you to the punch and are going to land that contract.”
Below the BeltSport: Boxing An illegal punch, when one boxer punches another in the vulnerable areas lower down than the waistband his boxing trunks. An unfair maneuver or comment used to gain advantage over an opponent. “Doing what you did was really below the belt.”
Blow by Blow Account

Sport: Boxing

A very detailed account of a boxing match. A very detailed account of a confrontation, an argument or some other eventful activity. “So give me a blow by blow account since I missed everything.”
Down but not outSport: Boxing When a boxer is knocked down on the floor but gets back up before the referee counts them out by a ten count. When a person has a setback but is well capable of a recovery. “After that accident, he might have been down but not out.”
Let Down His Guard.Sport: Boxing When a boxer does not keep their arms up to shield against the possible blows from an opponent. Whenever someone doesn’t pay attention and opens themselves up for attack. “He really let down his guard this time.  I hope he stays safe.”
Low BlowSport: Boxing An illegal punch, when one boxer punches another in the vulnerable area lower down in his body. When someone personally attacks another person in a deceiving or manipulative way while catching them off guard. “Man, that was a low blow when he brought up the past.  I thought that was already over.”
Roll With the Punches

Sport: Boxing

A boxer who “rolls with the punches” moves his body away from the force of a blow so as to lessen their impact. Although life is tough, someone who rolls with the punches takes things as they are without complaint. “I know things are hard right now.  Just roll with the punches and you’ll come out alright in the end.”
Saved by the Bell

Sport: Boxing

When a boxer has been knocked to the floor, they avoid defeat when the referee’s ten count is interrupted by the bell signaling the end of the round. When a seemingly inevitable poor result is averted because of a sudden interruption. “Man, he was sure saved by the bell.  I thought for sure he was out of it for good.”
Split Decision

Sport: Boxing

At the end of a fight, the judges disagree over who is the winner and the referee provides the casting vote. If something has to come to a vote and the group is split on what the outcome should be. “It seems as though the jury has a split decision about this one.”
Sucker PunchSport: Boxing A boxer can trick or lure an opponent into an error or a moment of distraction then hit them with a sucker punch.  It’s particularly effective because it is unexpected. When someone is caught off guard or distracted by something else and is sucker punched or destroyed as a result by an unknown situation. “He was really doing well until he was sucker punched by senior management.”
The Gloves are OffSport: Boxing Boxing without gloves so that blows are much more likely to cause injury. Going through life by playing it tough and without compassion. “It seems they can’t solve things the way they have and have taken the gloves off.”
CheckmateGame: Chess The king is under check and cannot escape rendering the game finished and a winner declaired. A final winning conclusion for one side. “She really has him in checkmate this time.  There’s no way out now.”
PawnGame: Chess The lowest ranking and most numerous player on the chess board. A lowly operative who is controlled by another higher-up person. “All you are to them is a pawn.”
Stalemate

Game: Chess

When the king is unable to find a safe place to move to, though not currently in check. The result is a drawn game. A situation where neither opponent can win. “It seems as though this situation is in a stalemate.”
Below Par154117332Sport: Golf Being above the number of strokes set as a standard for a specific hole. Used to describe bad performance. “Those stocks sure are performing below par.”
Hole in One

Sport: Golf

When a golfer sinks a ball in a hole with just one swing. A fantastic, though very rare, achievement. “She sure landed a hole in one with her performance.”
Make the Cut

Sport: Golf

Only players who achieve better than a certain score are allowed to proceed to the final 2 rounds of a golf tournament. To make the grade or to be allowed to progress to the next level “He made the cut this time.”
Par for the Course

Sport: Golf

The score that one is normally expected to achieve. Nothing unusual.  What one would expect. “Life is always par for the course.
And They’re OffSport: Horse Racing Frequently the words of a commentator when a race starts. A way of telling an audience in real time that a race or contest has started. “They’re all lined up…and they’re off!”
A Run For His Money

Sport: Horse Racing

When a horse competes against another horse that is expected to win. To be as good as someone who is usually better at a particular thing. “He really gave him a run for his money.”
Chomping at the BitSport: Horse Racing A horse will chomp at the leather strap across its mouth (i.e. the bit) when it’s eager to start running. When someone is eager or anticipates something to happen. “She is really chomping at the bit about the results.”
Heavy Going

Sport: Horse Racing

Soft, muddy conditions make it hard for horses to run at their fastest. When things get tough in life and progress is slow. “She sure is heavy going.”
Neck and NeckSport: Horse Racing A very close race where the 2 leading horses are battling all the way to the finish. When people are very close in competition. “They sure are neck and neck.”
Tough Going

Sport: Horse Racing

Conditions where the horse has to battle very hard to make progress. Conditions where contestants suffer a lot of hardship and pain in the pursuit of progress. “Things sure are tough going during this time.”
PitstopNASCAR PIT STOP - Rockingham, North CarolinaSport: Car Racing When the car has to briefly leave the race track to refuel, change tires or undergo maintenance. A brief stop on a journey to refuel or get food. “I’m going to have to make a pitstop before we meet up.”
BullseyeSport: Darts, Shooting The center of the target, where a direct hits scores the most point. A perfect result. “He sure hit a bullseye with that result.”
Into SubmissionSports: Wrestling, MMA When a contestant puts a hold or lock on the other contestant to the point that they are brought into submission and lose the match. When someone pressures another person in a way that there is no other way but to give up. “I will bring you into submission if it’s the last thing I do!”
Kick OffSports: Soccer, Football The start of the match or game. The start of any event. “The kick off will begin at noon.”
Level Playing Field

Sport: Soccer

It is hard to play a fair game of soccer if the turf is tilted towards one team’s goals If one person or one group has an advantage over others right from the start. “That sure wasn’t a level playing field.”
Game, Set and Match

Sport: Tennis

The match is all over. The contest is over. The winner is clear. “It’s a game, set and match!”
The Ball’s in Your CourtSports: Tennis, Basketball You have to hit the ball when it comes over to your side of the net. It’s your turn to make a decision or do something. The ball’s in your court.  What are you going to do?”

Cool Links

Sports Metaphor Quiz

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