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Let’s Make Sports Idioms International


Perhaps nothing shows the closed culture(s) of English more than sports idioms in business. The British call difficult situations a “sticky wicket” (from cricket, where the bowler tries throw past the batsman to hit the wicket).  Americans and other cultures that play baseball would understand “getting to first base” (the first step toward scoring).


 And almost no one outside the U.S. can understand the “Hail Mary” pass (a last-minute play in American football). These are cultural blocks to understanding.

Well, it is fun to have lively phrases to share in English.  But people must first understand games which make no sense to them. So let’s try to find a middle ground. What sports does everyone know? Some sports, like Hockey and Skiing are understood mostly in northern climates that leaves out a lot of people. 


Others, like Sailing or Equestrian events, may be known, but are sports for a small elite. Boxing and Wrestling do not appeal to a lot of women, but other international sports do. So if we are able to choose our sports analogies to be quickly understood by the most people, what sports should we use?


We could start with Running. An idiom like “We’re coming to the finish line” should be understandable. Or “Getting ready for that trade show was a marathon.”  Diving and gymnastics have their degree of difficulty factors, so we might all understand the term 8.5 degree of difficulty.


People watch Tennis on television world wide, so we can probably use an idiom like “He aced the test.” And Golf is known worldwide, so a term like “his short game” could be universally understood.


But what about team sports? Soccer (football) is understood everywhere, even in America, so we could probably refer to an “own goal” where a player clumsily deflects the ball into his own goal. And Basketball is rapidly becoming international as well, and with it the “slam dunk” and the “full court press.”


You can see that Business English badly needs things we can all share easily. Please send any good international sport idioms you can think of to posse@bizeng.net We’ll publish them.


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