low blow

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed Mar 18 19:29:19 UTC 2009

The long-since lexified phrase "low blow" seems not to appear in the OED!

Webster's Third gives it (only) with the definition "a blow below the belt in boxing."  Webster's Ninth Collegiate gives it (only) in the figurative, idiomatic sense, "an unprincipled attack," with the date 1952.  Random House Webster's Unabridged gives both senses, with the date 1950-55 for the latter.

The phrase is absent from Chambers Dictionary, 10th ed. (2006).  However, it does have an entry in the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd ed. (2005), in both senses.

I have done a hasty search in Google Books (it's a hard phrase to search!) and found the boxing term as early as the second decade of the 20th century:

1915, William E Jost, "The Surgical Treatment of Seminal Vesiculitis," Medical Fortnightly 47:144 (dangling participle and all!):  "While engaged in a boxing contest, a low blow rendered him unconscious."

The figurative use of the phrase was occurring at least as early as 1940.


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