Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996 09:42:40 EST From: Larry Horn Subject: out in left field To complete the file, underdetermined though the history may be, the following citation should not go unmentioned: A. M. Zwicky, P. H. Salus, R. I. Binnick & A. L. Vanek (eds.), STUDIES OUT IN LEFT FIELD: DEFAMATORY ESSAYS PRESENTED TO JAMES D. McCAWLEY ON THE OCCASION OF HIS 33rd OR 33th BIRTHDAY. Edmonton: Linguistic Research, Inc., 1971. (Current Inquiry into Language & 4.) [Recently reissued.] ----------------------------Original message---------------------------- 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. E.W.Gilman