Capital Language Solutions | Sporting idioms in British and American English
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Sporting idioms in British and American English

23. Juni 2015

It’s common knowledge that when someone from the UK talks about football, they mean the game with a spherical ball that is played over 90 minutes, and not the gridiron game involving touchdowns, extensive padding and oval balls (or, for the mathematically inclined, prolate spheroids). When it comes to language, in particular the sporting idioms that have become common in both forms of English, it is clear that there are differences beyond soccer.

What to say when someone has done an amazing job

When a colleague or team member has not just done their job well, but has excelled and delivered incredible results, there are a number of compliments you might want to pay. Depending on whether you want to use an AmE (American English) or a BrE (British English) expression you might use one of the following

  • She really hit a home run on that presentation (AmE – Baseball), i.e. her presentation impressed the audience.
  • On that last sale, he hit the ball out of the park (AmE – Baseball), i.e. he did incredibly well and achieved an outstanding outcome.
  • His speech bowled the new investors over (BrE – Cricket), i.e. what he said (and the way he said it) excited and convinced the new investors.

 

Taking responsibility and dealing with problems

If things have not been going quite as smoothly as they could, or there’s a new opportunity just waiting to be seized upon, sports idioms offer a few very appropriate and effective ways to communicate this.

  • The production delays mean we’re on a very sticky wicket with our customers (BrE – Cricket), i.e. we have problems or difficulties.
  • It doesn’t matter how it happened, we need to step up to the plate and solve this (AmE – Baseball), i.e. we need to take decisive action.
  • It’s the bottom of the ninth and we’ve everything to play for (AmE – Baseball), i.e. time is running out, but we still have a chance.

 

Idioms that work in both American and British English

Of course, there are a number of sports that are popular on both sides of the Atlantic, such as tennis or golf. Idioms associated with these can be used with both British and American partners without any danger of misunderstanding.

  • We’ve done our job and the ball is now firmly in their court (AmE and BrE – Tennis), i.e. we just need to wait for their response.
  • I guess that’s par for the course (AmE and BrE – Golf), i.e. that’s probably normal or typical.
  • There are two bidders and they’re pretty much neck and neck at the moment (AmE and BrE – horse racing), i.e. the outcome is impossible to predict as the competing parties are equally placed at the moment.

We’ll be coming back to idioms in future blog posts, but for now, we’d love to hear about your experiences of BrE and AmE sports-related expressions.

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