April 07, 2008

#01-094: Sports Idioms - Part I: Balls

graphic image of six balls: soccer, basketball, baseball, American football, golf, and maybe croquet, all on a blue background
All kinds of balls

Note: This column and the following three (#01-095, #01-096, and #01-097) were written as the Olympic Torch toured the world in 2008. It seemed fitting, then, that we again turned to sports-inspired idioms.

Get Ready: Do you play any sports? Do you know any idioms that come from sports you play (or used to)?

The idioms in this lesson concentrate on terms that use the word "ball."

Read the conversation. Then do the Practice and, after checking your Answers in the first comment below, read the Explanations.

Sam and Dave are discussing new employees.

Sam: Hey, I like this new guy, Marvin. He really seems on the ball.

Dave: Yeah, since he started in the sales department, it's a whole new ball game.

Sam: How do you mean?

Dave: Well, you know, those guys used to drop the ball a lot.

Sam: Yeah!

Dave: But this guy: he keeps his eye on the ball.

Sam: I like to see a young man who can carry the ball.

Dave: And Marvin's the one! All we have to do is get the ball rolling, and he'll take it and run with it.

Sam: Now if we can just get the other guys to play ball with him...

We'll do more sports idioms in the next three lessons. 


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball

Practice: Match the term to its definition below. After checking your Answers in the first comment, read the Explanations below.

  1. be on the ball
  2. carry the ball
  3. drop the ball
  4. get the ball rolling
  5. keep one's eye on the ball
  6. play ball (with)
  7. take the ball and run with it
  8. a whole new ball game

  1. the result of changing conditions
  2. to be on task; to do something well
  3. to develop an idea or project further
  4. to be responsible for something
  5. to cooperate or go along with
  6. to start something
  7. to be focused on one's job
  8. to not carry out one's responsibilities

Answers are in the first comment below.

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

  • get the ball rolling: This means to initiate a project, or to start something. In football (soccer, not American football), for instance, the ball is rolled onto the field in certain circumstances after play has been stopped. "Ethan, you have your instructions. Now we'll leave it up to you to get the ball rolling." Similarly, to "keep the ball rolling" is to continue an action.
  • take the ball and run with it: Once an idea is proposed, it often needs further development. That's one of the ideas behind this phrase. Another is like "get the ball rolling": Take an idea and put it into action. "We have seen your proposal, Ian, and we think it's great. Now you can take the ball and run with it."
  • carry the ball: To be responsible for something, or to be in charge. This is more often used for long-term responsibility, rather then brief projects. "Dave has been carrying the ball on these negotiations for almost 10 months now."
  • drop the ball: In a sport where a ball is to be carried or caught, dropping it is a huge mistake. So to "drop the ball" is to fail at something, to not follow through or live up to one's responsibilities. "I'm afraid we're going to have to fire Philip; he's dropped the ball too many times in the past year."
  • play ball (with): to cooperate or go along with. "Thomas, you need to be more of a team player. If you can't play ball with your manager, we'll have to transfer you." 
  • keep one's eye on the ball: This generally means to be focused on one's job, or on the goals that have been set. It's an axiom in baseball, golf, and other sports: "Keep your eye on the ball." So a boss might say, "I know we're all tired, but we all have to keep our eyes on the ball if we expect this campaign to succeed."
  • be on the ball: Similar to "keeping one's eye on the ball," to "be on the ball" is to be on task, without letting down. "Don't give up, guys; we all need to be on the ball."
  • a whole new ball game: When one team is losing badly, and suddenly catches up and passes the other team, the announcer might say, "It's a whole new ball game!" Similarly, in business, when new facts are discovered, or a new company enters the market--in other words, any time conditions change--we might say the same. "With these new government regulations, compliance is a whole new ball game."

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 7, 2008, as China prepared for the Beijing Olympics.

1 comment:

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