Tuesday, September 7, 2010


The sports world is creative with its idioms, resulting in some mental aching on the part of language enthusiasts. That’s not to say it’s not fun or interesting.

In baseball, a can of corn is a high, easy-to-catch flyball or pop-up. Hard cheese is another term for a fastball.

In football, a slobberknocker is an especially hard hit on a tackle — also known as bringing the wood. The fumblerooski is a play on which the quarterback pretends to fumble and a teammate picks up the ball.

Fertile imaginations had a hand in these.

During the opening weekend of college football season, I heard both a new phrase and an old one, neither of which I really like. The new one was “a case of the quicks,” simply meaning the player was fast. It made its point but seemed unnecessary, and I hope it passes away quietly and immediately. The old one was “the worm has turned,” which is used often in the sports world but also is commonly heard in everyday language. I’ve just never really cared for it — and it has been around a very long time.

Among its word of the day entries, of “the worm has turned” the site www.randomhouse.com says:
It’s one of many derived forms of an old proverb, the base of which is either tread on a worm and it will turn or even a worm will turn. It means “even the most humble will strike back if abused enough.”
The proverb is first recorded in John Heywood’s 1546 collection of proverbs in the form: “Tread a woorme on the tayle and it must turne agayne.” Shakespeare uses it, of course: “The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on” (Henry VI, part III). It has remained common in all sorts of literature: “He’s a very meek type. Still, the worm will turn, or so they say.” (Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack’d).
The proverb’s first American attestation is in 1703, and there are a number of 18th century American examples, showing that it has been popular for some time.

I found another item about the phrase, one that's intriguing, but questionable.

The site http://salmonriver.com/words/nancy/wormturns.html says:
When Shakespeare used that simple phrase, “The worm has turned,” he knew his audience would understand its meaning and origin. A widely used expression even today ... but few who use it know why.
“Worm” is a common term for “dragon.” In fairy tale terms, the flying dragon spewing fire would ravage fields and villages. To be in the dragon’s path resulted in inescapable destruction. What a relief if it changed directions.

Though the segue from a mythical fiery, flying beast to a worm is suspect, another prevalent sports colloquialism also reportedly arose from a winged creature: the jynx.

From www.allaboutstuff.com/sports_phrases/about.asp
Baseball Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson was among the first to use this word in print when he wrote in his "Pitching in a Pinch" (1912): “A jinx is something which brings bad luck to a ballplayer.” Big Six probably didn’t know that the word may owe its life to a bird called the jynx, which was used to cast charms and spells. The jynx, known in America as the wrynecked woodpecker or wryneck, takes its name from the Greek jynx for the bird. In the Middle Ages this rara avis, with its grotesque, twisted neck, its odd breeding and feeding habits, its harsh, strident cries during migration and its near silence the rest of the time, was thought to have occult powers. As jynx feathers were used to make love potions and black magic charms, the bird’s name itself came to mean a charm or spell, especially a black magic spell, cast on a selected victim. It’s easy to see how the slang term jinx arose from jynx, but the long flight of the jynx from medieval times to the printed page of 1912 is not easily explained.

Medieval birds tied to superstitious baseball players. Marvelous.

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