Diction Exercise (293)

Journalists writing on general topics often use sports metaphors. Choose the standard English wording that best explains the sports metaphor in boldface.

  • The Governor dropped the ball when he agreed to permit private agencies make educational decisions for public schools.

  • The company’s CEO declared that the electronics division was expected to knock it out of the park during the next quarter.

  • The designer complained that just as he completed the blueprint, the project manager moved the goal posts.

  • When asked about finding the money for the new playground, the Mayor shrugged and said, "I’d call it a lay-up."

  • The manager explained the poor showing during the first six months of the product’s launch by saying, "It’s early innings."

Answers and Explanations

1. The Governor dropped the ball when he agreed to permit private agencies make educational decisions for public schools.

Correct: missed an opportunity
Dropping the ball in a game can cause players to fail to score. It’s considered a serious blunder on the part of the person who does it.

2. The company’s CEO declared that the electronics division was expected to knock it out of the park during the next quarter.

Correct: prove exceptionally successful
In baseball, a player who knocks the ball out of the park scores a home run. If other players are on the bases at the time, the score is even higher.

3. The designer complained that just as he completed the blueprint, the project manager moved the goal posts.

Correct: changed the specifications
Although several sports use goal posts, the goal posts are never moved in the course of a game. The metaphor originated in England as an example of extreme unfairness.

4. When asked about finding the money for the new playground, the Mayor shrugged and said, "I’d call it a lay-up."

Correct: It will be easy to get the money
Lay-up is a basketball term for the act of putting the ball into the basket from just beneath it. It’s considered an easy thing to do, so metaphorically, a lay-up is something easy to accomplish. The meaning is similar to slam dunk, but a slam dunk is more dramatic: the player jumps up and pushes the ball into the basket with more force than is required for a lay-up.

5. The manager explained the poor showing during the first six months of the product’s launch by saying, "It’s early innings."

Correct: It’s too soon to make a judgment
Some games, like cricket and baseball, are divided into periods of play called innings. A team that is losing in the early part of the game may end by winning because they score later in the game. To say of a project that it’s "early innings," means that it’s too soon to know for certain that it is failing.

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