5
   

"out of left field"

 
 
lovejoy
 
Reply Thu 20 Dec, 2012 03:08 pm
The way this term is used in American films suggests it means that something was a surprise or something which no one could have foreseen.

It is obviously taken from a sporting term, baseball or American football, but what exactly is the origin of it?

Thanks
 
tsarstepan
 
  3  
Reply Thu 20 Dec, 2012 04:02 pm
@lovejoy,
Baseball. The baseball outfield is broken up into three sections. Right field, center field, and left field.

Quote:
: : : : WAY OUT IN LEFT FIELD - Out of touch, eccentric, odd; also, misguided. This term alludes to the left field of baseball, and there is some disagreement concerning its origin. Some writers suggest it comes from the remoteness of left field, but only in very asymmetrical ballparks is left field more distant than right field. Others suggest it alludes to the 'wrongness' of left as opposed to the 'rightness' of right. A correspondent of William Safire's in the "New York Times" said it was an insulting remark made to those who bought left-field seats in New York's Yankee Stadium during the years that Babe Ruth played right field, putting them far away from this outstanding player. Perhaps the most likely theory is that it alludes to inmates of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, a mental hospital, which was located behind left field in Chicago's old West Side Park. Hence being told you are 'out in left field' would mean you were accused of being as peculiar as a mental patient. In any event, the term has been used figuratively for various kinds of eccentricity and misguidedness since the first half of the 20th century. John Ciardi also cited a synonym, 'out in left pickle,' maintaining that 'pickle' was baseball slang for the outfield. Perhaps it once was, but it is no longer current." "Southpaws & Sunday Punches and other Sporting Expressions" by Christine Ammer (Penguin Books, New York, 1993).

http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/16/messages/609.html
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Thu 20 Dec, 2012 04:39 pm
@tsarstepan,
I would suggest to you that whoever wrote that piece doesn't really understand baseball. The majority of batters are right-handed. Therefore, the majority of batters will hit to left or center field, and are most likely to hit strongly to left field. A right-handed batter who is a switch hitter, and can change sides of the home plate will nevertheless be unlikely to hit strongly to right field. Therefore, the left fielder usually "plays deep," i.e., he or she will be farther out in left field than either the center fielder or the right fielder are in their respective fields. The left fielder is usually the player farthest from home plate.
Ragman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 Dec, 2012 08:22 pm
@Setanta,
bingo!
0 Replies
 
dalehileman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 Dec, 2012 11:20 pm
@lovejoy,
Te expr is "Out in left field"
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  -1  
Reply Fri 21 Dec, 2012 07:27 am
@Setanta,
Quote:
I would suggest to you that whoever wrote that piece doesn't really understand baseball.


That came right out of left field. I would suggest to you, Set, that you don't really understand language.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  3  
Reply Fri 21 Dec, 2012 11:01 am
@tsarstepan,
tsarstepan wrote:
Some writers suggest it comes from the remoteness of left field, but only in very asymmetrical ballparks is left field more distant than right field.

If "out of left field" meant "coming from a long way away," then I suppose that might make some sense, although, as the writer notes, left field isn't any more distant than right field. But since the phrase means "from a totally unexpected direction," there's no link between the distance and the fact that it comes from left field (indeed, the farthest point from home plate is in center field, not right or left field).

tsarstepan wrote:
Others suggest it alludes to the 'wrongness' of left as opposed to the 'rightness' of right.

I think this is closest to the truth. Left fielders don't carry any kind of stigma, but left-handed pitchers have a longstanding reputation for being sorta' flaky.

tsarstepan wrote:
A correspondent of William Safire's in the "New York Times" said it was an insulting remark made to those who bought left-field seats in New York's Yankee Stadium during the years that Babe Ruth played right field, putting them far away from this outstanding player.

Yeah, that doesn't make a whole lotta' sense.

tsarstepan wrote:
Perhaps the most likely theory is that it alludes to inmates of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, a mental hospital, which was located behind left field in Chicago's old West Side Park. Hence being told you are 'out in left field' would mean you were accused of being as peculiar as a mental patient.

This is a great story, and it might even be true. The old West Side Park was located on a rectangular block bounded by Taylor, Polk, Wood, and Wolcott streets. Home plate was at the northwest corner of the block at Polk and Wolcott, and the left field wall ran along Wood street on the east. Cook County hospital was across Polk street to the north of the park. The Psychiatric Institute was located at 1601 W. Taylor, so it was over the left field wall, but it wasn't across the street (instead, it was about two blocks away). As this photo from 1905 shows, the buildings over the left field wall appear to be residential structures.

http://memory.loc.gov/ndlpcoop/ichicdn/s0032/s003242.jpg

It's possible, then, that "out of left field" might have referred to the mental hospital located over the left field wall at West Side Park, although I think that's a stretch.
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  0  
Reply Fri 21 Dec, 2012 11:07 am
@lovejoy,
Quote:
It is obviously taken from a sporting term, baseball or American football, but what exactly is the origin of it?


It really doesn't matter where it came from, Lovejoy. A lot of these stories of idiom origins are just that, "stories".

Someone mentioned William Safire. Counting on idiots like him to provide accurate information on language is a futile endeavor.
0 Replies
 
 

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