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Picture of Kalleh
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Not being a boxing fan at all, I read an article which mentioned tomato cans as meaning "easy fights, simple victories". I decided a thread on sports terms might be fun. For example, I thought of southpaw, which means left-handed pitcher. My AHD says that term comes from the left-handed pitcher having his arm toward the south of the diamond. Others?
 
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in the same ballpark
is one I just used in an email yesterday when explaining that the fee for a service would be about the same as it was last time.
 
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Cricket has given us a number of phrases, although I suspect they mean as little to the Americans as the "ballpark" reference does to the English.

Stonewalling means batting making no attempt to score, keeping the ball from hitting your wicket as if you've erected a stone wall around it. We often will talk about politicians stonewalling, when they answer questions without giving anything away.

A hat trick is when a bowler gets three batsmen out in three successive balls. In the early days of cricket it was the custom that the team mates of a bowler who performed this feat would club together and buy him a new hat. The phrase has moved to other sports as well, such as football, where it means three goals scored by one player in the same match. It is sometimes used outside sports to refer to three of anything occurring in a row.
 
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I have always wondered about a basketball phrase. Why do they call it the key when in fact it isn't shaped like one?
 
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arnie, we similarly say thata hockey player makes a hat trick if scores three goals in a single game.

We use stonewall in the same political sense that you do. I'd alway thought it came from the Civil War general named Stonewall Jackson; one on-line source takes that positions, says that when he was ordered to hold his position against opposing forces, he was said to have stood like a stone wall. But frankly, having heard your etymology I tend to favor it.
 
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Actually, thinking about it further, I don't know which meaning came first, to play defensively in cricket or to answer defensively. I can't believe that it comes from Stonewall Jackson, however.
 
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I doubt the Jackson origin too.

As to timing, Online Etymology Dictionary says that "metaphoric use of stone wall for 'act of obstruction' is first attested 1876; stonewall (v.) 'to obstruct' is from 1914."
 
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quote:
I have always wondered about a basketball phrase. Why do they call it the key when in fact it isn't shaped like one?
For those unfamiliar with the term, the key is (under the rules) the rectangular area of the court shown in red in the following diagram of a basketball court. By rule, an offensive player may not stay in the key for continuously for more than 3 seconds; he must leave it, if only momentarily, and may then return. In common parlance, though, the term key also includes the semi-circle above thta rectangle.

As Kalleh notes, neither version of the key is key-shaped.

History explains this. The 3-second rule was designed so that an offensive player would not have the advantage of simply parking under the basket. Orignally, however, the rectangular part of the key was much narrower, so the player could park far closer than he can today. With that narrower version, the key (including the semi-circle) was indeed keyshaped.

In the early 1950's this "parking" gave so great an advantage to George Miken, the first prominent big-man of the time in professional basketball, that the rule was changed to widen the key to its present width. With that change the key was no longer key-shaped, but the term key survived.

You can see this in the basketball scenes of the excellent movie Hoosiers, which is set in early-1950 Indiana. The filmmakers, being accurate, repainted the modern courts to the 1950's pattern of a narrow key. But sometimes their repainting was imperfect, and with careful viewing you can see the wider red area faintly bleeding through the repainting.
 
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Thanks, wordnerd, for the excellent explanation.

However, I still haven't found how "tomatoe can" came to mean an easy fight. I went to a lot of boxing sites; while they mentioned "tomatoe cans", they didn't give the etymology. I did come across one boxing site where I could post the question on a forum like this one; however, I am a bit afraid I will get laughed out of there because I am not exactly boxing savvy! The following was the only definition I could find about it, and in fact this site has a lot of fun boxing terms, some of which I hadn't known before:

Tomato can: A journeyman fighter, or "professional opponent," who is not good enough to be a champion but provides a good fighter with a good practice session without any real danger to himself. Also called a "ham-and-egger" (for the diner food once consumed on the road by these men), or "palooka."

[This message was edited by Kalleh on Sat Oct 5th, 2002 at 21:10.]

[This message was edited by Kalleh on Sat Oct 5th, 2002 at 21:10.]
 
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