Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996 17:54:32 -0500

From: "H Stephen Straight (Binghamton University,


Subject: Re: out in left field

This thread strikes me as particularly germane for a language-oriented

discussion group, because -- to my ear -- "from out in left field" refers

to an utterance (or other communicative event) that has been injected into

an otherwise well-ordered discourse from a source presumed to be out of

touch with (or by metaphorical extension, totally unconnected with) that

discourse. The phrase usually derogates, because it implies an uninformed

source. On this derogatory reading, the phrase compares to "from the

peanut gallery". However, FOILF can also describe an utterance that turns

out to be relevant and valuable, typically because the source turns out to

be surprisingly well informed.

For me, the root metaphor for FOILF -- constructed in tandem with the

above interpretation(s) -- has therefore not involved WHO was in left

field (a good or a bad player) nor even WHERE that player was (distant

from home plate) but rather the fact that, unlike all of the other players

on the field (including the right fielder, who often takes a position not

much farther from "outfield" than the shortstop) the left fielder is least

likely to be within earshot and therefore unable to contribute

interactively to infielders' discourse.

Any contribution at all "FOILF" is therefore surprising: "How can the

left fielder know what we're talking about?" If the contribution turns

out to be germane, this implies either that the left fielder could hear

more of what was being said than we thought (because the wind was just

right?) or that the discourse topic was one the left fielder had inferred

from evidence other than having heard what the infielders were saying

(because the sports commentary on the left fielder's Walkman had provided

clues?), but more likely it will strike the infielders as an unexpected

change of topic or otherwise discourse-disconnected interjection.

My three cents.

Best. 'Bye. Steve

H Stephen Straight, Dir, Lgs Across the Curric, Binghamton U (SUNY)

Nat'l For Lg Ctr, Jan-June 1996, VOX: 202-667-8100; FAX: 667-6907

1619 Massachusetts Ave NW -- Fourth Floor, Washington, DC 20036

sstraigh[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] ["sstraigh", not "sstraight"]