Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996 10:50:50 +0000

From: "E. W. Gilman" egilman[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]M-W.COM

Subject: out in left field

The origin of the phrase is obscure. Paul Dickson's Baseball

Dictionary mentions the phrase, but hazards no opinion of its origin.

Christine Ammer's dictionary of cliches, "Have A Nice Day", offers

three theories gleaned from William Safire. Two deal with distance,

either to the left field wall or to the left fielder, and one claims

that "in the Chicago Cubs' old ballpark" a mental hospital was

located just beyond left field (this seems pretty far-fetched).

Ammer says the phrase has been in use since about 1950, but cites

only a 1974 example. These dates reflect our files in a general way;

our earliest citation comes from 1956 and shows the phrase either not

fixed in form yet, or a very un-baseballish author: in a review of

"Waiting for Godot" Estragon is described as "a fellow out on left

field". A couple of years later an unidentified speaker (perhaps

Jack Benny) is quoted as saying "My so-called Allen feud came

strictly out of left field". I expected better evidence, but there

was a long-established disinterest in sports lingo back in those

days. The phrase begins appearing with "in" as the usual preposition

in the 1970s.