Sports idioms generally originate from a specific sport such as baseball or sailing. Over time these phrases have come to mean something that can be used in everyday life. While most sports idioms can still be used when discussing sports, they are even more common in other areas of life, especially the business world.
HERE ARE SOME SPORTY EXAMPLES…
Down to the wire
In American horse racing in the latter 1800s, officials ran a wire above the finish line in order to make it easier to judge which horse’s nose crossed the line first, in close races. When a race was too close for the casual observer to call, the outcome was said to have “come down to the wire“.
ball is in your court
This idiom originates from the sport of tennis. Once the tennis ball has been hit over the net, the onus to act (i.e., play the next shot) switches to the person whose half of the court contains the ball. The word “ball” is therefore a metaphor for the need to act.
not up to par
This idiom originated in the 1800s and gained widespread popularity in the 1900s. Some sources say that the expression comes from the sport of golf. In golf, par refers to the number of strokes (hits with a golf club) that a golfer should take to get the ball into the hole.
out of your depth
The expression was available in prints since the mid-1600s and initially appeared in its literal sense. The earliest printed record can be found in Comedies and Tragedies by Thomas Killigrew (1664): “He was never out of his depth before; you shall see him plunge and struggle like a young swimmer to get of the puddle.”
skating on thin ice
This idiom, which alludes to the danger that treading on thin ice will cause it to break, was first used figuratively by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay Prudence (1841): “In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.”
jump the gun
The literal use of jumping the gun means to start a race before the starting pistol is fired. There have been various means to measure the starting time of a race since ancient Greeks first began competing against one another. However, it seems the idea of a gunshot as a way to signal the start of a race has been around since the early 19th century during horse races in the American West.
throw in the towel
This little expression of course derives from boxing. When a boxer is suffering a beating and his corner want to stop the fight they literally throw in the towel to indicate their conceding of the fight. This earliest citation that I have found of this is in the American newspaper The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, January 1913:
out of my league
It’s a metaphor derived from baseball leagues. If you did not have the competencies to play in the major leagues then you would be “out of your league” It thus became a metaphor for competencies; for example, in jobs, musical bands, educational institutions and yes even good looks for some.
thrown in the deep end
In the deep end of the pool, one cannot stand on the bottom, so they are forced to swim. It’s a metaphor for deal with with the unfamiliar, mainly when you are not adequately ready. “Deep water” is an idiom for a very serious or unpredictable situation, so when you jump into deep water, you don’t know what might happen or what may occur on the deep surface.
move the goalposts
Moving the goalposts or shifting the goalposts is an idiom which means changing the terms of a debate or a conflict after it has started. This phrase comes from sports that use goalposts, such as football. In 1978, the Washington Post published the phrase, quoting the CEO of American Airlines who said, “‘They keep moving the goal posts”. In Britain, the earliest known published use was in 1987.
had good innings
The literal meaning of an innings is the period in a cricket match during which one player – or team – tries to score runs (points) and if one player scores a century – 100 runs – it’s generally seen as being a very good innings.
pass the post
The phrase first-past-the-post is a metaphor from British horse racing, where there is a post at the finish line (though there is no specific percentage “finish line” required to win in this voting system, only being furthest ahead in the race). The horse-racing phrase first ‘past the post’ was used in 1910.