[Ads-l] Astros clinch World Series

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Nov 2 11:40:06 EDT 2017


> On Nov 2, 2017, at 8:36 AM, Dan Goncharoff <TheGonch at MEDIAKAT.COM> wrote:
> 
> I would never write that about a game 7 win. For me, clinching requires
> uncertainty. The Astros could have clinched in game 6, but didn't.
> 
> I won't use 'clinch' in a simple win-or-lose situation. I can see it in
> complex scenarios, eg, clinching a spot in the playoffs by winning the last
> regular season game.
> 
> ——————————————————————————————
Agreed.  That does strike me as an odd use of “clinch”.   It’s a bit complicated, though.  I agree that it seems like a baseball, basketball, or hockey team can be said to clinch a 7-game series in Game 4, 5, or 6, but not 7; thus, Joe Carter’s Game 6 walk-off home run clinched the 1993 World Series for the Blue Jays, but Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off Game 7 home run didn’t “clinch” the 1960 World Series for the Pirates, it only won it.  (And yes, I’m using “walk-off” anachronistically here.).   

On the other hand, if Federer wins three of the first four of five scheduled sets against Nadal, he isn’t said to have clinched the match, only to have won it.  The most natural uses involve cases where additional (“meaningless”) games must be played, but then why isn’t it odd to say that a team clinches a World Series victory when they win in 5 games?  It’s not like they go ahead and play the last two games, any more than Federer and Nadal would play the last meaningless set.  “Clinch” is used in Davis Cup play, though, since even if one country’s team is up 3-0, they go ahead and play the last (“meaningless”) matches, so after a team builds that insurmountable lead, they are indeed said to clinch.  Similarly, in a national election, you clinch victory when you get enough electoral votes to “put you over the top” (since the other electoral votes will still be counted).

But the use Dan mentions about last night’s game is all over the web, so it’s not an error but a broadening.  

I tried the OED, which was no help, since they don’t include the relevant lemma in their (admittedly not-fully-updated) entry for clinch, v.1.  The closest is

5.  To make firm and sure (a matter, assertion, argument, bargain, etc.); to drive home; to make conclusive, confirm, establish.

with no cites involving securing ultimate victory in a contest.  AHD5’s entry predicts the pennant-clinching or division-clinching uses or, by extension, the playoff-spot-clinching and electoral contexts (the latter requires a bit of tweaking to the definition) but not the World-Series-clinching occurrences:

3. Sports To secure (a divisional championship, for instance) before the end of regular season play by having an insurmountable lead.

So the key is the notion of insurmountability, along with the end-of-season (or end-of-electoral-vote-counting) context, but that doesn’t distinguish between the cases we (at least some of us) do distinguish between, including that weird distinction between scheduled 7-game World Series and scheduled 5-set tennis matches.

LH

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