Popular sayings derived from sports


Sports of all forms have immense cultural currency and, as such, many of the common terms employed in them have found their way into regular speech. Here are some of the best you will no doubt have used or heard in everyday conversation.


In football, to run interference is a strategy wherein a player deliberately aims to obstruct or prevent an opponent from reaching and halting the advance of the ball carrier. It has found a second life outside of football to mean any situation wherein a person deliberately employs blocking or interfering speech or actions in order to buy time or create an opening for another person, situation or event, to complete.

When celebrating a touchdown, it is common practise to throw the pointed end of the football at the ground. This is referred to as a "spiking the football", and has gained some traction in popular use outside the game to refer to celebrations of all types, similar to the idiom "victory lap".

photo-1566577739112-5180d4bf9390.0.jpegA Hail Mary, a term deriving from the Catholic prayer for Mary, Ave Maria, is used in football to describe a desperate pass or play that is unlikely to succeed. Similarly, to be "worth a shot" also denotes this meaning. This use for the traditionally religious prayer has now become commonplace.


Of course, football isn’t the only sport to have generated popular sayings. In the card game poker, a player is said to be "under the gun" when they're sat next to the dealer and thus first to play in a new round of betting. This phase implies that they’re under pressure from adverse conditions, and has its origins in the age of siege warfare where the first attackers assaulting a castle wall would be "under the guns" of the defending forces.

Easily the most popular saying to come from poker though is in referring to a serious situation as a time "when the chips are down". This derives from when players bet their assets in the form of chips on the outcome of a hand, and as such represents a point of commitment and no-return.


The game of cricket is another rich seam of popular sayings. When someone has been "knocked for six" they are said to be reeling from a surprise outcome or reversal. This comes from the practise of removing a bowler from play by hitting their thrown ball out of the bounds of the cricket pitch, similar to a home run in baseball. The name derives from the fact that this act awards the batting team 6 points.

Cricket is also the origin of the term "hat trick", a saying that has since proliferated throughout the sporting world. It refers to a series of three goals or points scored by a single player, and derives from the traditional practice that a player in a cricket game would be eligible for a prize from their cricket club for achieving such a feat. A common prize of this nature would be a new hat, hence, "hat trick". Interestingly, this is now more commonly associated with the game of soccer with many believing the sport to be where the term originated.


Perhaps the most influential sport outside of gridiron football for popular sayings is boxing, with many drawn to watching the bouts in the recent Tokyo Olympics. The negative use of the term "lightweight" derives from the weight classification system of this sport. To be "saved by the bell", a term used to denote a lucky escape, comes from when a fighter has been spared a further beating or imminent knock-out by the end of a round, signified by the ringing of the bell.

When someone is "pulling no punches", it means that they’re not holding back, instead putting their full force into the activity they’re involved in. And when someone is losing a fight, leading to them getting pushed up against the ropes by their opponent's offensive punching, they are said to be "on the ropes". It is perhaps no big surprise that a sport that is so simplistic and oppositional would find its terminology so readily applied to situations out in the world.

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