English Idioms

english idioms



  • I can throw in an idiom, which I heard recently and which was new for me: 'to be behind the eight ball':

    It means: To find oneself in a pickle, in a hopeless situation without a way out, in a mess, in great trouble.

    I don't know the background of this idiom, maybe it has something to do with the billard game 'eight-ball', but
    I don't know.
  • As Whacky seems to be so much erudite that he is worth knowing everything, I copied and pasted this from "The Phrase Finder". I for one couldn't be interested in so detailed argumentation as I've been provided with a too narrow skull that made me narrow-minded. So all that is far beyond me.

    From "The Phrase Finder":

    There is dispute about the origin of this phrase. Some say that it derives from the Eight Ball version of the game of pool. The balls are numbered and must be potted in order. A turn is forfeited if a player's cue ball hits the (black) eight ball first and the game is forfeited if the eight ball is potted by mistake. A 'behind the eight ball' position leaves a player in a difficult position. There is little agreement about when the game began to be played with eight balls, or when it was first called Eight Ball.

    Another version is that the term derives from the game of Kelly Pool, in which players are allocated one of 16 balls to pot and the players with the lower numbered balls play first. Those players that are given balls higher than eight are unlikely to win the game. This second supposed derivation carries less plausibility, as:

    - It would make just as much sense to say 'behind the seven/nine etc. ball' and no such phrases have ever entered the language.
    - Also, the context of that explanation would suggest that the phrase would have been coined as 'after the eighth ball' (and the eighth ball isn't named as the eight ball in Kelly Pool) rather than 'behind the eight ball'.
    - Also, also, the phrase means (and is documented as meaning, as early as 1931 in the New York Times), 'in a tight spot', not 'unlikely to win', which is a quite different meaning.

    However, as we often find, plausibility isn't everything and further research may prove the case one way or the other. Clearly, a citation of the use of the phrase before the the use of an eight ball in the game we now call Eight Ball pool would rule that out as the origin.

    Of course, there may be some altogether unrelated source. There is a game called Eight-ball Croquet, for instamce, and that predates both of the above forms of pool/billiards. The eight ball isn't specifically named in that game, so it is difficult to see how the phrase might have originated there.

    All of the early known citations of the phrase are American. It dates from the early 20th century - the earliest citation that I can find is from the Wisconsin newspaper The Sheboygan Press, December 1929:

    "Bill ['Lucky' Bill McKechnie, manager of the Boston Braves] figures he can finish behind the eight ball with any kind of a ball team, so there'sno harm in trying out young talent as there's nothing to lose beyond last place."

    The precise date of the coining of the phrase isn't known. It is a fact that it appears in print many times in American newspapers from December 1929 onwards. I can find no uses of the phrase prior to that date.

    'Behind T
  • Whacky is not anymore willing to be erudite, Whacky is off, once and for all. Farewell. Fun will it lasted!
  • ...WHILE it lasted. The last typo for good.
  • Don't be cross, Whacky.
    That would be a plight for everyone if you were off.
    Please, stay IN.
  • I am not cross, Joe. Not at you, and not at somebody
    else in this forum. I have no reason.

    Let's call it a kind of 'dillusionment'. Quite honest, it's time to recognize oneself and herd sheeps or something instead of doing something that only foster illusions.
  • I am so sorry, Whacky.
    Loosing an illusion makes you wiser but "a pleasant illusion is better than a harsh reality" (as said a certain Bovee). Could this forum illusions turn pleasant, that's my hope.
    I confess that what I wrote before handing out the Phrase Finder text was unbearable. I didn't want to be harmful; I was talking absolute non-sense.
    Change your mind, Whacky.
    I swear I won't do it again.
    Bear in mind this forum regulars are so happy meeting with you now and then.
  • Joe, I still don't know what you mean. You wrote nothing that could be seen as harmful. Quite the contrary. I don't understand, sorry.
  • What's the meaning of this idiom : fine words dress ill deeds? help me!

Please sign in to leave a comment.