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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
Winter's Tale Queries
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1946  Monday, 6 October 2003

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Oct 2003 07:36:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries

[2]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Oct 2003 13:45:51 +0100
        Subj:   Re: Left Field

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Oct 2003 14:25:13 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries

[4]     From:   Carol Morley <
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        Date:   Saturday, 04 Oct 2003 10:40:36 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Oct 2003 07:36:59 -0500
Subject: 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries

Tony Burton responds with magisterial pomp to our brief discussion of
"out of left field":

>Of course, a number of list members supplied explanations on which
>others are presumably supposed to rely.  My guess is that they have been
>induced by the power of suggestion to invent an instant folk etymology.
>On the other hand, mangled metaphors and misunderstood colloquialisms
>seem nowadays the frequent product of ignorant political types who are
>striving for the common touch.  And they have a long literary pedigree
>as malaprops.  As my mother would have said about these not-so-helpful
>efforts to explain the nonexistent, "They're barking up a dead horse."

But he badly misses two important points. First, just because a term
does not have a definition in a reference book does not mean that it
doesn't exist. Any word or phrase that one person uses and another
understands is a word (or phrase). Because he is unfamiliar with the
term doesn't mean that it is simply a mistake on our part. I queried the
list because I have heard it used with some frequency and wondered about
its provenance.

Second, it has none of the qualities of either the mangled metaphor
(where, I gather, one half of proverbial expression is linked to the
unrelated half of another) or malapropism (where a term is substituted
for a similarly sounding one that produces comic absurdity -- as in
Dogberry). If the phrase under discussion is derived from the one he
cites, it involves nothing more a change in the preposition ("of" for
"in"), though it is a crucial preposition. On the one hand, it is
neither mangled metaphor nor malapropism; on the other, it produces a
different, though most likely related, meaning -- something coming upon
us unexpectedly, though with a sense of strangeness rather than of
threat.

It is too colloquial for formal writing, I would say, but for informal
writing it would seem very useful -- provided, of course, that people
understood what you meant by it.

Cheers,
 don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Oct 2003 13:45:51 +0100
Subject:        Re: Left Field

>Perhaps we're all out in left field, here.  There is an entry in "The
>Dictionary of American Slang" for "out IN left field", to mean "Wrong,
>very wrong; out of place, date or order; unusual; obnoxious; off base.
>Until the present inquiry and enthusiastic discussion, I never heard the
>expression "out OF left field," which seems to suggest the meaning "out
>of the blue, from nowhere, unexpectedly."

I don't know much about this particular slang, but "out of left field"
is certainly not a sudden invention of SHAKSPER subscribers.  If you do
a Google search on the two phrases that Tony Burton supplies "out of
left field" produces 28,400 hits, while "out in left field" produces
only 18,200.  So Burton's favoured version seems to be less commonly
used than the other.

The "Wordwizard Clubhouse"
(http://www.wordwizard.com/clubhouse/founddiscuss.asp?Num=4095) suggests
that "There are three 'left field' expressions" and defines the "Out of
Left Field" option as follows, drawing on the "Facts on File
encyclopaedia of Word and Phrase Origins":

***

OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Since left field is not any more odd or less active a
position than right or center field in baseball, it is hard to
understand why it is featured in this common slang expression meaning
'very unorthodox' and wrong, weirdly unconventional, even crazy. In
fact, anyone who has ever played sandlot baseball knows that the most
inept (and therefore a little odd to kids) fielders were relegated to
'right' field, because there were fewer left-handed hitters to pull the
ball to right field. It has been suggested that the phrase refers to the
left field seats in Yankee Stadium that are far away form the coveted
seats near Babe Ruth's right field position. Another suggestion links
the phrase to the Neuropsychiatric Institute flanking left field in
Chicago's 19th century West Side Park, though there are no references to
the expression at that time. I would suspect that the words simply refer
to the relative remoteness of left field compared to all other positions
except center field and that left field is used instead of center field
in the expression because 'center' by definition means in the middle (of
things) and 'left' has long had negative connotations of clumsiness,
awkwardness, and radical or eccentric behavior.  The expression 'from
out of left field,' meaning from out of nowhere unexpectedly, lends
credence to the remoteness theory. The term 'left field' itself was in
use by the mid-1860s, along with the names for the other outfield
positions, following by 20 years the first recordings of the names of
the infield positions.

***

Given that the term seems to be in very active use, such attempts at
explanation seem entirely justified.  If this phrase is simply a folkish
misreading of the other "left field" variant then this would itself be
another alternative explanation of the origins of the phrase (someone
made a mistake, and lots of people copied them!).

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"       "British Shakespeare Association"
http://shakespearean.org.uk           http://britishshakespeare.ws

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Oct 2003 14:25:13 +0100
Subject: 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries

Tony Burton <
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 > writes,

>Perhaps we're all out in left field, here.  There is an entry in "The
>Dictionary of American Slang" for "out IN left field", to mean "Wrong,
>very wrong; out of place, date or order; unusual; obnoxious; off base.
>Until the present inquiry and enthusiastic discussion, I never heard the
>expression "out OF left field," which seems to suggest the meaning "out
>of the blue, from nowhere, unexpectedly."

As a mere dumb Brit, I feel slightly reticent here, but I'd always taken
this simply as a metaphor derived from baseball, and the phrase "coming
from the left field" (or something similar) to denote taking an
eccentric position.

_The Cassell Dictionary of Slang_ (not, admittedly, perhaps the most
authoritative compendium in this area) concisely avers thus:

LEFT-FIELD  adj. [1960s+] [US] unorthodox, thus "out of left field,"
"out/off in left field," eccentric, out of the ordinary, bizarre.
[baseball imagery]

But this is deeply USAmerican territory, and as someone who is notably
blank even over both silly midoff and the offside rule ...

This would seem to turn on a distinction between being *in* the left
field and coming *from* the left field.  The left field (I say this
hesitantly and without accurate documentation) would seem to be a place
which, in baseball, is pretty-much away from the centre.  So you can
either or both be there or come from there.

Illuminating (for me at least) is:

        http://www.wordwizard.com/clubhouse/founddiscuss.asp?Num=4095

"There are three 'left field' expressions: 'out in left field,' 'out of
left field,' and 'from out of left field'."

Robin Hamilton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Morley <
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 >
Date:           Saturday, 04 Oct 2003 10:40:36 +0000
Subject: 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1934 Winter's Tale Queries

I agree with Tony Burton that we're on a very sticky wicket with this
slang etymology- at least that's the precise phrase, as loosely
translated into American, which makes sense to me in the context of an
alien sporting metaphor.

Best wishes,
Carol.

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