Antedating of "Curve" and "Curve Ball"

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Sep 8 16:26:44 UTC 2013

A reader of Scientific American [26, 1872, p.155] wrote to assert "that the famous low and deceptive pitchers in base ball have never yet succeeded in making a ball deflect to the right or left in the form of a curve." An editor agreed.

Stephen Goranson
From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of George Thompson [george.thompson at NYU.EDU]
Sent: Saturday, September 07, 2013 8:44 PM
Subject: Re: [ADS-L] Antedating of "Curve" and "Curve Ball"

Peter Morris' entry on the curveball is mainly devoted to the various tales
of who first pitched a curve ball, where & when; but he has "Other pitchers
had to take up the curve or quit playing", from 1883 (p. 93, col. 1);
"they] seemed to turn up their nose at any man who 'hadn't got the curve",
from December, 1877 (p. 93, col. 1); "Bradley . . . has been after Jim
Devlin . . . and endeavored to learn his 'curve.'  But Devlin has refused
to explain it to him", from December, 1875 (p. 93, col. 1); "One of the
pitchers is a splendid 'curve' pitcher, i. e., . . . his balls generally
land nearer the first or third baseman than the striker", from 1879 (p. 93,
col. 2); "After our boys came back from Ann Arbor they explained the fact
of there being such a thing as 'curve pitching'. . . .  But William
Stephenson has since got on to the 'curve balls". . . .", from 1878  (p.
95, col. 1).

So he has 1875, 1877 & 1883 for "curve" as a noun, and 1878 & 1879 for the
adjective; I don't see that he has any early instances of "curve" as a verb.

Morris gives the full citations: newspaper and date.

Peter Morris, *A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That
Shaped Baseball*, Chicago: Ivan Dee, 2010 (the one-volume edition, with
additional material, of a book published in 2 volumes in 2006).


On Sat, Sep 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at>wrote:

> The OED's first use of the baseball sense of "curve" is dated 1879, with
> the attributive "curve ball" having only a 1970 citation.  The Nichols and
> Dickson baseball dictionaries cite the New York Herald, July 7, 1874, for
> "curve ball" (this should also count as an antedating of "curve").  That is
> nontrivially earlier than anything I retrieve for "curve ball" in ProQuest,
> America's Historical Newspapers, Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers,
> Newspaperarchive, Chronicling America, or GenealogyBank, but I assume
> Nichols was accurate.
> Fred Shapiro
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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