The Language of Baseball (1910)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Jan 25 08:33:35 UTC 2005

Found this on Newspaperarchive... it's extracted from "The Humming Bird"
by Owen Johnson (1910), which I see is included in _Dead Balls and Double
Curves: An Anthology of Early Baseball Fiction_ (SIU Press, 2004):

Notable not just for all the baroque baseballese, but also for the
innovative affixation of "-wise" and "-sburg" to players' names ("De
Soto-wise", "Waladersburg").

_Post Standard_ (Syracuse, NY), June 18, 1910, p. 4/4

The Language of Baseball

In the little book, "The Humming Bird" (Baker & Taylor), a small American
named Dennis de Brian de Boru Finnegan tells how the great American game
is played and presents to his prep school paper an account of the match
between Lawrenceville and Pennington. One of the faculty asks him to
explain. He does so:
"'Lawrenceville, 5; Pennington, 4,' said Finnegan. In the breakaway
Tyrell, first to dust the rubber for the Chaperons."
"Chaperons?" said Bingham, puzzled.
"It's co-ed, you know, sir. 'Chaperons' gives rather a touch of humor,
don't you think?"
"'In the breakaway Tyrell, the first to dust the rubber for the Chaperons,
selected a hole in the circumambient and poked a buzzer over short --'"
"Go slow, Finnegan."
"Yes, sir -- 'Minds soaked a clover kisser to the far station, which
Walader kittened to and whipped to first --'"
"I don't get that Finnegan."
"What is it, sir?"
"Well, the whole episode is a trifle hazy. What is a clover kisser?"
"Why, a daisy scorcher, sir."
"You mean a grounder?"
"A certain kind of grounder, sir, very low -- one that doesn't rise from
the grass. Quite different from a broncho-buster or a dew-drop, sir."
"I'm afraid I have specialized too much in medieval English; what is this
thing you call a broncho buster?"
"A broncho-buster is a grounder, or rather a tobasco grounder, that bucks
and kicks."
"Very lucid, Finnegan, and a 'dew-drop'?"
"Why, that's a weakling -- a toddler -- all luck, you know."
"Ah, yes. Now let me think, Walader stopped the daisy scorcher --"
"Clover-kisser, sir."
"Exactly. So Walader stopped it and retired the man at first?"
"Why, yes, sir."
"Proceed, Finnegan, proceed."
"Tyrell, who had purloined the second perch, started to ramble to
Waladersburg when Jackson stung the planet De Soto-wise for a safety, but
our iridescent little body snatcher lassoed it and slaughtered the rally
with a staccato lunge to the midway that completed the double demise."
"Ah, yes. that is simpler," said the Master, gravely. "Now for
"De Soto streaked the empyrean blue with a white winger that was strangled
in center."
"A fly, Finnegan?"
"Yes, sir."
"Just an ordinary fly?"
"Oh, no, sir, a rather high one."
"Hickey ticked off a slow freight to the pretzel counter and cannon to
first just ahead of Tyrell's slap."
"Let us go back."
"Why, what's wrong, sir?"
"Ticked off a slow freight?"
"Bunted a slow one."
"Naturally -- but pretzel counter?"
"The curve box -- the pitcher."
"Of course!"
"Stevens frisked the lozenge once to the back woods and then unmuzzled a
humming bird to the prairies which nested in Jackson's twigs --"
"I don't like unmuzzled."
"I could say uncorked, sir."
"No, I don't fancy uncorked, either."
"Unhitched, then."
"Never unhitched. The fact is, the use of the words humming bird in this
connection does not seem to me appropriate at all."
Finnegan looked solemn and said with difficulty: "Please, sir, I would
like to keep that expression, sir. I'm rather proud of that. A humming
bird is a liner, you know, that hums, Please, sir, I hope you'll let me
have that in."

--Ben Zimmer

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