It is funny how big sporting events such the FIFA World Cup, Wimbledon or the Olympics can suddenly turn entire nations sporting mad, even for armchair fans who only cheer on their teams from the comfort of their own homes. Although most people do tend to have a passing interest in sports, we are never as avid fans as when there is a great sporting event taking place.
Someone will be celebrating victory after winning the FIFA World Cup final in Brazil, and although it might not be your team who wins, it is still a good opportunity to learn some phrases or idioms that originate from sports and that have been adopted into everyday speech. These idioms can be used in business situations, social occasions and, of course, during sporting events.
Let’s kick off with a simple one such as, well, kick off. We use this phrase when we want to initiate or start something, but we could just as easily say let’s get the ball rolling, get a head start, be first out of the gate, play ball or even make a flying start.
If you are too eager to get started, someone might use the phrase jump the gun, which usually implies that you have started without getting all of the information required to complete a task properly. You might even score an own goal, by which we mean doing something that has a negative effect, or the opposite of what you intended.
If you get into trouble, it could be three strikes and you’re out, you could be said to be out of your depth, in deep water, or even be for the high jump, but friends or colleagues could offer you support by going to bat for you, or by being in your corner. Be careful, though; the odds may be against you unless you are saved by the bell.
When preparing for an interview for a new job or promotion, you should emphasize how much of a team player you are. You should be ready to step up to the plate to take on a new challenge so don’t drop the ball. Don’t pull your punches when selling your skills and experiences, since you may need to play hardball to convince your boss that you are worthy of promotion. Most importantly, don’t throw in the towel, this could be a whole new ball game for you.
It’s Not Cricket!
You can have lots of fun, as well as make yourself sound more interesting by using sporting idioms to help to describe many situations. There are far too many to list them all here, as there are an estimated twenty-five thousand idioms in the English language altogether. As you can see from the above text, sporting idioms in particular can spice up your language skills, so let’s take a look in detail at one or two sporting idioms that you may already have come across in business English.
Plain sailing – This denotes a simple or easy situation, although from my experiences there are very few easy situations in real life. Businessmen and women often use this phrase to describe complex decisions or discussions in which they are hoping for a positive outcome.
The ball is in your court – Often used when a decision needs to be reached and the responsibility has passed onto a single person to decide. Sometimes though, it is used by others to strong-arm someone into making a decision against their better judgment.
Call the shots – Usually this signifies who is in charge or making the decisions and where you would go to ask for advice if needed. In cases where different groups are meeting, one might ask the other who is calling the shots in order to discover who they need to impress the most.
Saved by the bell – A term from boxing which signifies when a lucky or fortunate event occurs which has a positive outcome. It describes encountering an event which may have saved you from misfortune, but was totally unexpected.
A level playing field – Often denotes when there is an equal amount of opportunity between rivals, this can apply to candidates with similar skills and experiences who have applied for a new job or promotion, or alternatively be between companies hoping to win a big contract. There is a fair chance for everyone to win or succeed.
However, it is not just business situations where these idioms are used. They are used in everyday common language by most of us, so it is important to grasp their meanings as quickly as possible. Idioms exist in most modern languages, but they do not tend to translate very well into anything meaningful when literally translated word-for-word. It is their figurative meanings that are important, which normally cannot be easily understood from the literal meanings of the words.
I suggest that next time you take an English language lesson, prepare some sporting idioms from your own language to translate into English. You can translate them literally into English, and then choose from the many different English idioms that closely match their meanings in your own language. Finally, remember that the use of idioms is vital in the IELTS exam if you are looking for a score of 7 or more!
For more information on idioms in general, a well as sporting idioms, visit me on Facebook, where you will find daily bites of fun English. You can also find me on italki most days, either teaching or gladly helping out with any English language queries you may have.
For further reading on sporting idioms, the BBC has a page dedicated to some of those most commonly used.