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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
Winter's Tale Queries
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1958  Tuesday, 7 October 2003

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 06 Oct 2003 11:23:46 -0400
        Subj:   Winter's Tale Queries

[2]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Oct 2003 11:29:57 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1946 Winter's Tale Queries


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 06 Oct 2003 11:23:46 -0400
Subject:        Winter's Tale Queries

Perhaps it would help to observe that in the major leagues, the least
talented and able outfielder is always put in left field. This is a
long-standing tradition, and for three reasons: (1) because of ball-park
construction, right field is usually the "sun" field and therefore
harder to play: (2) many of the best hitters have batted left-handed,
and therefore tend to hit to right field; (3) the centerfielder must
cover more ground and is usually the best fielder on the team.

--Ed Taft (former left fielder)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Oct 2003 11:29:57 -0400
Subject: 14.1946 Winter's Tale Queries
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1946 Winter's Tale Queries

My humble contribution to verbal precision attracted more vehement
criticism than I expected.  I never hoped to attain "magisterial pomp"
with it, so I'm flattered by the suggestion that I may have done so in
referring to scholarly authority to explain "out in left field".  But
let me address the objections to my offering in the hope that list
members, even Brits who are foreign to our national pastime -- beloved
here of illiterate phrase-coiners as well as learned -- may turn from
the chaff to seek the nourishing grain on their own.

First, "out of left field" may not quite fit the definition of a mangled
metaphor or a malapropism.  Perhaps it is merely an ignorant mistake,
although I detect signs of cross breeding between "out of the [a clear]
blue [sky]" and "out in left field."  In any event, we can safely ignore
this red herring; the issue lies elsewhere.

Bad usage has the power to drive out the good, and the Google search
engine can be a trap for the credulous because it records the good and
bad, and both confirmations and refutations too, all with electronic
impartiality.  Yet, on the very first page of the 10,500 entries for
"out of left field" is a discussion to the effect that the phrase is
simply an erroneous version of "out in left field,' which was my point
in the first place.   Other entries on that page refer to the title of a
sportswriter's baseball column, which appears to be a jocular usage that
plays knowingly on the correct form of the idiom.

But it's worth noting that Google gives another familiar expression "toe
the line" 13,200 entries and the clearly mistaken "tow the line" (with a
good deal of back-formed folk explanation over "tow') a healthy 3,400.
Moreover, "toe the mark" has 1,120 entries and the unintelligible "tow
the mark" 136.  Perhaps listmembers will enjoy running their own
favorite misusages through Google and report on its reliability as a
guide to correctness.

I suggest that to understand a disputed phrase, and properly to evaluate
speculative attempts to supply meaning to a mistaken variant of an
earlier coinage, requires a well-tuned ear and a sense of good usage.
Otherwise, we have nothing but confusion worse confounded (Google,
1,150), if not (ditching Milton entirely) confusion worse compounded
(Google, 8).

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