The Words We Use in Baseball

Words can be powerful.

The way in which words are used says much.  Words can bring joy and pain; they can make us laugh and cry.  And, mostly, words help us communicate.  How we use words says a lot about who are as individuals, as a society, as a culture.

In baseball, there is a unique dictionary.  It is exists, partly from simplicity, yet, I would imagine, more from a unique creativity that exists in the characters who have played the game.  Check out the words in the poster that are used to describe a hit.  That’ll give you an idea.

Nick Stillman enlightens us in his article, “Dirt Dogs and Jinegar: Baseball Slang”, about the words that are unique to the game.  The logic with which these words have come into use puzzles him.  He explains,

Terms associated with dirt and filth are highly complimentary. A hitter respectfully calls an excellent pitcher “filthy,” a term that evolved out of common adjectives from a decade ago: “nasty” and “dirty.” “Dirtbags” and “dirt dogs” are consummate hustlers, guys with perpetually soiled uniforms and caps and batting helmets stained with sweat, tobacco juice and pine tar. Naturally, dirtbags and dirt dogs play “dirtball.” A player who is “pretty” is the opposite of a dirtbag, as is a “muffin.”

Some words have come to us from player’s names.  This can be good and bad.  For instance,

A prodigious home run is Ruthian and a Ryanesque fastball is hyperfast, but typically a player who inspires the coinage of a slang term is one who has made an embarrassing play. A century ago, Fred Merkle committed what came to be known as “Merkle’s boner,” a base-running mistake that cost his New York Giants the pennant in 1908. The Washington Post commented in 1914 how his flub “added a new verb to the dictionary, for…when a man performs some bonehead action.” To “pull a Buckner” is to allow a routine ground ball to trickle through the wickets–which Bill Buckner did while playing first base for the Red Sox in the tenth inning of a dramatic World Series game against the New York Mets in 1986.

Stillman goes on to give example upon example of terms used in the game, some familiar, and some not.  But, with a language like this, the game can’t help but be fun.  For example,

When a hurler toes the slab he wants to throw peas or seeds, not watermelons or cantaloupes. So, when he’s cruising or twirling or canceling Christmas, he’s also tossing beebees. If an elbow-bender (a k a slabster, moundsman or box artist) is serving them up down the crock, he’s liable to surrender a few gopher balls. A cement mixer–the dreaded hanging slider–is a dastardly thing for a pitcher (chuck and duck!). Cookies and cherries like this result in laser shows. Traffic (wind) can be a friend or an enemy. Punchados are welcome, but they aren’t the only way to get a hitter out: a hurlsmith will gladly accept a can of corn, a worm burner, a nubber on an excuse-me swing or something right up the elevator shaft. Nothing ticks off a heaver like painting the black and having some Punch-and-Judy green pea bloop a duck snort, Texas Leaguer or Baltimore chop for a safety…”Bugs Bunny” is an adjective used to describe an exaggeratedly slow changeup, the type with which the eponymous cartoon character so often fooled opponents.

Hopefully, after reading the article, you can use the new slang and everyone will think you’re full of “jinegar”!

1 Comment

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One response to “The Words We Use in Baseball

  1. John Ferguson

    Dude – remember seeing you throw some heat at PP. Then Bobo would throw that bender that everyone would wiff.

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