[Lexicog] "spin doctor"

Patrick Hanks hanks at BBAW.DE
Fri May 21 17:49:13 UTC 2004

Hi again Fritz - 

The definition that you quote seems to me a good one, but I don't think the expression has anything to do with spinning a yarn (which is a metaphor from the wool trade).  It's from "putting a spin on [something]", which is, I believe, a metaphor from either cricket or baseball. In cricket, unlike baseball, the ball is allowed to bounce between the bowler (= pitcher) and the batsman (= batter). Slow bowlers put a lot of spin on the ball, which causes it to change direction quite dramatically when it bounces, thus deceiving or confusing the batsman. I believe that in baseball spin causes the ball to swerve in the air. 

I'm copying this to my former colleague Philip Durkin at OED; who may be able to say when and where "spin doctor" originated and indeed whether the metaphor is from cricket or baseball. (He will, I hope, correct any errors in what I've said here.) 

Patrick Hanks

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Fritz Goerling 
  To: lexicographylist at yahoogroups.com 
  Sent: Friday, May 21, 2004 6:37 PM
  Subject: RE: [Lexicog] Semantic extensions

  I am interested in the origin of the expression "spin doctor". Is this a semantic extension or what 
  has happend to "spin" in this expression? I found the following definition:
  a public relations person who tries to forestall negative publicity by publicizing 
  a favorable interpretation of the words or actions of a company or political party 
  or famous person; "his title is Director of Communications but he is just a 
  spin doctor" 
  My hunch is that this is close to the meaning of "to spin a yarn" (= to tell a tale).

  Fritz Goerling 

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