March 03, 2008

#01-079: Boxing Idioms - Part I: A Blow-by-Blow

announcer Howard Cosell with headphones on; smoking a cigarette and looking at a printed paper
Famous boxing announcer Howard Cosell gave "blow-by-blow" coverage.

Note: American English is filled with a surprising number of idioms drawn from the world of boxing. Here are some about hitting people. The following two lessons, #01-080 and #01-081, will also be about boxing.

Get Ready: Have you ever punched somebody, or been punched? Why?

Most people are aware that English is filled with sports idioms. In America these often come from baseball or American football. But few people realize how many English idioms come from the sport of boxing. Let's start this lesson some boxing idioms using "swing," "punch," and "blow."

Read the dialogue, taking note of the underlined words. Then do the Practice below, check your answers in the first Comment, and read the Explanations.

Mel and Bob, a couple of boxing fans, are discussing a new sales campaign.

Mel: So, Bob, what's your suggestion for the new campaign?

Bob: Well, I thought we'd take a swing at some new strategies. For example, we could start before the usual season and beat ABC Corp. to the punch.

Mel: That'll work, if we have a good plan. We can't just start swinging wild!

Bob: I agree. But once the plan's in place, we can come out swinging.

Mel: Definitely. Do you have a plan for any problems that might come up?

Bob: Well, we always need to be ready to roll with the punches, especially if they do something unethical and sucker punch us.

Mel: Yeah, that would be a low blow.

Bob: In that case, we should press ahead. No reason to pull our punches.

Mel: Well, keep me informed of our progress.

Bob: Don't worry, Mel, I'll give you the blow-by-blow.

We'll continue to look at boxing idioms in Lesson #01-080.


Read more:

Practice: Match the idiom to its meaning. After you check your answers in the first comment, read on for Explanations about each one.

  1. beat someone to the punch
  2. blow-by-blow
  3. come out swinging
  4. low blow
  5. pull one's punches
  6. roll with the punches
  7. sucker punch
  8. swing wild
  9. take a swing at something

  1. give something a try
  2. begin something very aggressively
  3. do something without preparation or focus
  4. do something before others have a chance
  5. hold back; restrain oneself
  6. accept setbacks and adapt to new situations
  7. an unexpected blow
  8. an unfair move
  9. a detailed report

Answers are in the first comment below.

Explanation of the Answers: After you check your answers in the first comment below, read on for more information on these idioms.

  • beat someone to the punch: do something before others have a chance. In boxing, it means to punch first. In business you might hear someone say, "We have to launch our product soon, before ABC Corp. beats us to the punch."
  • blow-by-blow: In the days of radio, the announcer would describe each hit or "blow." We now use the phrase to describe a detailed report. It can be a noun: "Give me a blow-by-blow of the meeting"; or an adjective: "I'd like a blow-by-blow account of your recent activities."
  • come out swinging: begin something very aggressively. "Sam came out swinging at the start of the meeting, defending himself before he was even accused of anything."
  • low blow: A boxer should land all his blows on the opponent's torso and head. A low blow is also called "hitting below the belt." It signifies an unfair move. "Jones was pretending to help me, then stole my idea and presented it to the boss first. That's really a low blow!"
  • pull one's punches: hold back, restrain oneself. A boxer might not hit with his full strength, either as a strategy, or to "throw the fight" (lose on purpose so someone can win a lot of money). In business, your boss might say, "I'm not going to pull any punches, Brown: You're the worst sales rep we have!"
  • roll with the punches: accept setbacks and adapt to new situations. "In this economy, we have to be ready to roll with the punches."
  • sucker punch: an unexpected blow. Sometimes a boxer will think the fight is over and drop his guard (lower his hands); if the other boxer chooses to hit him right then, it's a "sucker punch." It can also be used as a verb, so someone could say, "We had no idea Rainbow Corp. was going to bid on this project; they really sucker punched us."
  • swing wild: do something without preparation, or without focus. "We have to plan our sales campaign carefully; we can't just start swinging wild."
  • take a swing at something: give something a try. "Johnson Company may not agree to a sales call, but let's take a swing at it anyway." (Note: this one COULD also be a baseball reference.)

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 3, 2008

This lesson received 362 visits on my old site between February, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. i; 3. b; 4. h; 5. e; 6. f; 7. g; 8. c; 9. a