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In the US, college-basketball's annual season culminates in a nation-wide tournament that occupies the national attention for three successive weekends. This year's tournament ends next weekend, presenting the semifinal and final games. In recognition, we devote this week to figurative uses of words from basketball.

The general language has taken relatively few words from basketball, as compared to (say) football or baseball. In many cases the non-basketball usage examples we present are simply metaphors, not truly a non-basketball meaning of the term. It will be interesting to see whether these metaphoric usages grow over the years into full-fledged new, figurative meanings.

We start with the method used to start a basketball game.

jump ball
basketball: a way to determine possession, in which an official tosses the ball up between two opponents who jump and try to tap the ball to a teammate
metaphoric: an uncertain situation that could equally go either way; a "toss-up"
    At the end of counting Wednesday, results were roughly tied with 62 percent of the vote in and counting to resume Thursday. "It's still a jump ball," said Mayor Frank Pasquale.
    – Chicago Tribune, Mar. 23, 2006

    Equity-indexed annuity sales are a jurisdictional jump-ball, because it isn't clear whether they're securities, insurance products or something in between.
    – PRNewswire, Mar. 23, 2006
 
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Originally posted by wordcrafter:
... we devote this week to figurative uses of words from basketball.

The general language has taken relatively few words from basketball...


Why do I somehow expect a reply to this from RE? I can just feel it coming on...a list of incomprehensibles from the exotic world of CRICKET! Wink

FIVE MINUTES LATER...
Oh no! I'm wrong! I just read his post in "False starts" about "the inanities of sport". He's NOT a fan. Who knew?!

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Duncan Howell,
 
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Of all sports, I suppose cricket is the one I come closest to liking. To sit in the English sun, by a green English field, drinking a pint of fine English Ale, is a wonderful experience. And if there's a game of cricket going on in the backgound, with its lack of any form of demonstration from the fans, apart from the occasional spattering of applause, then that can even add to the experience.

So much nicer than the semi-human violent eccentricities of football fans (and players).


Richard English
 
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A 'jump ball' is an uncertain situation. The opposite, a certainty, also has a basketball name.

slam dunkfig. a sure thing, a certainty; also adj. (verb: to defeat decisively)
basketball: a shot in which a player jumps, reaches up and forcibly slams the ball down through the basket from above
    With an 8 to 0 vote, it was as close to a slam dunk ruling that you're going to get from this U.S. Supreme Court.
    – Colorado Springs Gazette, Mar. 8, 2006

    It's a phenomenon widely known as the CSI effect, named for three hit TV shows in which crime-scene investigators … solve the most heinous crimes with dazzling and dazzlingly quick forensic evidence. Some believe the show is raising the expectations jurors and defense attorneys have for prosecutors to turn up slam-dunk physical evidence in the same manner … .
    – Paul Ferguson, Portage (Wisconsin) Daily Register, Mar. 25, 2006
A basketball goal is 10 feet in the air, so a shot typically is taken from below. It rises above, and then falls, its downward motion impelled by nothing more than gravity. (Aside: When Naismith invented the game, he elevated the goal for precisely this reason, to remove the incentive [as in ice hockey or football/soccer] to propel the ball at a forceable, potentially-injurious speed.) But if one can leap and stretch high enough to hold the ball above the basket with hand on top, it can be slammed down with force.
 
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full-court press – an aggressive, no-holds-barred, all-out effort
    Negotiators for Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs, and Croats reached the agreement after US mediators mouthed a last-ditch full-court press to break a deadlock that had appeared to doom the three-week-long talks.
    - John Landay, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 22, 1995
 
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Originally posted by wordcrafter:

A basketball goal is 10 feet in the air, so a shot typically is taken from below. ..... But if one can leap and stretch high enough to hold the ball above the basket with hand on top, it can be slammed down with force.


I have long considered this to be basketball's great weakness..that the very tall have a very great advantage, regardless of their athletic ability. If the basket were to be raised somewhat higher than it now is, even the ectomorphic freaks who dominate the game today would be forced to shoot the ball rather than slam-dunk it. Normal athletes would be back in the game. But, it ain't gonna happen.

P.S. I also got the answers on how to fix football/soccer, American football, and baseball...but nobody will listen! Roll Eyes
 
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tip-off – the jump ball by which a basketball game commences
figurative: the commencement of any other extended activity

However, I can find the figurative use (as below) only in the basketball context. Can anyone show a more extended application?
    The NBA on ESPN Radio will tip off its 11th season Tuesday, Nov. 1
    – National Basketball Association press release, Aug. 8, 2005
 
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The only use of tip-off I'm familiar with is that of giving useful advice. Along the lines of:

"Fred decided not to back the horse after receiving a tip-off that its jockey had been bribed to lose".
 
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Ah...that's because you're English. I suppose we wouldn't understand your English football (in other words, soccer) words either. Wink
 
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Do Americans use tip-off in the sense that Royston mentioned? It's the only sense I've seen it used in, as well, apart from the literal use of the term when I played (reluctantly) basketball at school.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Do Americans use tip-off in the sense that Royston mentioned?

That's the sense which I hear most, but then I know more wannabe grifters than basketball players.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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The sense Royston mentioned is by far the more common in terms of ghits.
 
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airballbasketball: a shot that misses the backboard, rim, and net
figurative – a highly-visible total miss
    Apple threw up an air ball with its horribly unexciting product announcement on Tuesday.
    – SQL Server Magazine, Mar. 3, 2006

    The Bush administration issued new rules ratcheting up gas milage requirements … Environmentalists had pressed for higher fuel savings. "After the Bush administration acknowledged our oil addiction, one might have expected a slam dunk, but this is an air ball," said David Friedman ... "The administration squandered an important opportunity to treat our oil addiction."
    – Business Week, Mar. 29, 2006
 
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fast-break – progress so rapid as to be bordering on lack of control (Wordcrafter definition)
    For all that to happen, China must carefully slow an economy that continues to run at a fast-break pace. The higher interest rates should help.
    – Los Angeles Times, Nov. 26, quoted in Asian Economic News, Nov 29, 2004
 
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Today's term is the opposite of air ball, and it isn't in the dictionaries. Merely in usage.

nothing but net
basketball: (said of a shot on goal) so perfectly made that it goes through the goal without touching either the backboard or the rim of the goal
figurative: perfectly done; without even the permissible degree of error
    Holding a hand microphone, Mr. Bush walked around a stage giving a largely extemporaneous talk on Iraq and his presidency. It was mesmerizing. One kept expecting Mr. Bush, whose deepest supporters despair at his inarticulateness, to stumble into the underbrush of confused facts or argument to nowhere. Never happened. Not once. For over an hour, it was nothing but net.
    – Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 24, 2006
 
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