The Pedants’ Revolt

This year marks the 631st anniversary of the Peasants’ Revolt. Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball paid for their defiance of King Richard II with their lives, but the uprising was a major turning point in the medieval history of London, as workers succeeded in exploiting their scarcity value (thanks to the Black Death) by extracting higher wages for their labour.

I can’t claim that the relentless incursion into our language of idiom, metaphor, simile and aphorism from the US (mainly derived from American sports) is of similar moment to the grinding down of the poor six centuries ago. Nonetheless my latest blog and Twitter campaign is based on my appeal to fellow pedants to reject the imports (and here’s the creative bit) come up with more locally relevant alternatives, derived this time either from OUR sports or the language generally.

I’m not so worried about metaphors like ‘curved ball’ and ‘time out’. Sure they come from baseball and American football respectively, but we all know what they mean. We could try ‘doosra’, or ‘bathroom break’, but perhaps not!

My unfavourite expression is ‘ballpark figure’. I looked it up hoping to find a cunning reason for it having spread around the world. But there isn’t anything better than its apparent derivation from the stadium announcer giving an approximate figure for the attendance at that day’s baseball game. So why don’t we simply say ‘approximate figure’?

One or two more for now, and then into a week or so of Tweeting. Why don’t we consider:

• ‘Sub’ or ‘off the bench’ for ‘pinch hitter’
• ‘Go into bat’ for ‘step up to the plate’
• ‘Wild card’ for ‘left field’ (the Americans don’t own poker)
• ‘Tough’ for ‘hardball’
• ‘Make progress’ for ‘get to first base’

Interestingly, some of these baseball terms have actually lost their meaning. ‘Touch base’ is now used to mean ‘contact’, whereas in baseball it means touching the base to make sure you are not out. Equally people use ‘play ball’ as if it means ‘co-operate’, whereas in baseball it signifies nothing more nor less than ‘play’ at the start of an inning.

Please give me some of your pet hates, and also suggestions of new clichés we can create. What a legacy opportunity!