May 27, 2011

Words, words, words -- and baseball!

Life intruded this week and prevented me from doing a word post. So I thought I'd mix it up today and talk about phrase origins and toss in a little baseball talk. (And I will get back to last week's off the cuff discussion of words at some point. I promise.) For now, let's jump in.

Tenderloin/the Tenderloin. In post-Civil War NYC, the police precinct west of Broadway between 23rd and 42nd streets, a then heavily Irish vice district. Whimsically so called because police assigned to the district found such lavish opportuniites for graft from gramblers, shady saloon keepers, vice hustlers, and organized criminal gangs that they would forget stew and live on tenderloin. (Some connection also to "high on the hog.") -- John Ciardi, The Browser's Dictionary. [PS from Keith: I can find no mention of "gramblers" on the net. It couldn't be a typo in a Ciardi book, could it?! They couldn't mean "gambler"; I won't accept this. Anyone ever heard of gramblers? Let me know in the comments.]

Tawdry. adj. Flashily worthless. Cheap and tasteless. (In British English only: as a noun: flashy, cheap stuff.) Origin: Sain(t Audry) via Brit-slurred Sin Taudry, which evolved into tawdry. Because on her feast day (June 23) a fair was traditionally held at which the most characteristic articles offered for sale were flashily colored and decorated neck scarves of the cheapest material ("tawdry stuff"). -- Ciardi.

Jack and Jill. The boy and the girl of the nursery rhyme. But what were they before they evolved into a boy and a girl? Note that they went up a hill to fetch a pail of water, a hilltop being the least likely place for finding a spring, pond or brook. As with much else in Mother Goose, the rhyme is probably based on some now lost reference. In early English and still in dialect, there is jack, a waxed leather pitcher with a spout, and gill, a liquid measure (now 1/4 pint, earlier ?). There is small point in speculating on the possible allegorical, political, or historical significance of the tumbling  jack and the following gill, but the boy and girl may (??) have evolved from them. -- Ciardi, once again.

And now on to a couple of baseball quotes from sports announcers:

"And now the 3rd baseman comes in, in case Ellsbury decides to lay one down." This phrase is used in baseball only for bunts, and I like it. You do indeed lay a bunt down. However, I can't help but notice that the phrase is used in English only for three things: one lays an egg, a bunt or a fart -- and only the middle one requires that you lay it down.

"And gettin' the wave is Mike Wilson!" This phrase means he's being waved home, i.e., the third base coach is literally whirling his hands in a circle to tell the runner to run from 3rd to home. I like it. Gettin' the wave. I also love 3rd base coaches. I just do. (Side note: the announcer's sentence is also a fine example of backwards talk.)

"The long ball really hurt him." In other words, too many of the pitcher's throws are hit for home runs. This is another instance of "the" being used to elevate a thing to superpower status. It's not merely that "too many guys hit home runs off him, " which would be a fairly normal way to say this. But no, instead we get "the long ball really hurt him." By using "the" before "long ball" it becomes a being, a sort of living creature -- and one that can hurt you, as it hurt this pitcher. "Look! The Long Ball! You expect it to have its own theme music and perhaps an action figure. The Long Ball is a character in the legend of baseball.

"And for the 300th time, Ortiz goes deep!".  I love this phrase. It has a sense of mystery to it. It sounds like something truly cosmic happened, like maybe the batter hit a ball so hard that he whacked it into another dimension! He went deep. I love it.

I hope this fills readers' word hunger for the time being. By the way, happy holiday weekend! Hit those beaches -- but drench yourself in sunscreen, you hear me?


Artichoke Annie said...

I'm not reading this one until tomorrow with my morning coffee...just saying...

Artichoke Annie said...

Jack and Jill lived in the Tenderloin District of their tawdry little town that, coincidentally had only one small hill that went UP.

You had to be careful, very careful or you would definitely TUMBLE DOWN which even on the best of days could not be confused with 'to lay one down'. A TUMBLE needs no prerequisite 'gettin' the wave' motion before sending you off and down the hill.

Jill would too often grumble (or was it gramble?) when clambering up the hill that "it was a long haul and it hurt" and that the well was "too deep" to fetch water properly.

But Jack was a bit hard of hearing and instead thought she was talking about 'The Long Ball' when the Big Z went 'deep' in last night's ballgame.

writenow said...

This was a tough one, what with the combination of baseball and general words, but you have executed your task faithfully. One can always count on you. Go reward yourself. Buy anything you see that seems appealing.