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Divided by a common language

I had one of those moments today, trying to pry two stuck stackable chairs apart and I said, “we have to put a little English on it” and all the English people went quiet and stared.

Yeah. I’ve wondered where the phrase came from, too. That seemed like a really good time to look it up.

In case it is hopelessly old-fashioned of me, “to put a little English on it” is most often heard in the context of baseball for putting a spin or curve on the ball. Metaphorically, it is giving something a little twist.

Someone in the room guessed it came from cricket. Which is a very good guess, because the pitcher (erm, bowler) often puts a little spin on the ball so it hops up unpredictably after the first (obligatory) bounce.

I gather. Nobody has ever tried to explain cricket to me, and with any luck no-one ever will.

Anyway. No. It comes from France. And billiards. The expression was to put a little ‘angle’ on it, which is a natural pun for Angles and the Anglais. Ironically, the pun doesn’t work in English.

You’ll have to take my word for it, though. I did all this on my phone, on the hoof, and I’m too lazy to look up the exact liink again.


Comment from Ric Fan
Time: March 27, 2019, 9:13 pm

Dont knock cricket. You get to lay in those cute canvas lawn chairs and people bring you drinks. There is only polite clapping so nobody wakes you up when you doze off.

Comment from p2
Time: March 27, 2019, 10:23 pm

Swease, I have a tea towel which was given to me in the 80’s by my landlord when I asked just what the hell was actually happening on the cricket pitch. It simply and succinctly explains the game in terms a Yank could actually understand. I’d be very happy to send it your way. Because it’s just not cricket if you’re going to live there and not at least know what leg before wicket means. ‘owzat? Just email me the addy and it’s on the way.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: March 27, 2019, 11:09 pm

One of my all-time favorite lines: from the movie Patriot Games. The Jack Ryan character is laid up in the hospital, injured after having saved the Princess of Wales from an attack by IRA renegades. Prince Charles comes into his Ryan’s hospital room to find him watching a cricket match on television. The Prince asks Ryan if he understands the rules, and Ryan says, “Rules!? Why spoil it with rules!?”

Comment from Mitchell
Time: March 28, 2019, 12:19 am

Oh, yeah that’s totally from billiards. When I was a lad we’d call really weird shots as having “Hebrew” instead of English on it.

Comment from Mitchell
Time: March 28, 2019, 12:33 am

Also, pool balls used to be made of celluloid, which would occasionally explode. That made for exiting games I’d imagine.

Comment from thefritz
Time: March 28, 2019, 2:09 am

Whoa! Swease’s pool post brought back a long lost memory. I was 13 living in Williamsport, PA in 1971. My best friend’s father was a big billiards player. One Saturday the local pool hall was promoting an appearance of Jimmy Caras, a Pennsylvania pool legend and I got to tag along. My only memory was watching him make a shot that required him to slice the cue ball around two balls to hit the ball he wanted to complete the shot. He did it and proudly announced, in a bad English accent,”How’s my English?” I didn’t understand at the time but was thrilled to be in a pool hall on a Saturday night with a bunch of cool people.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 28, 2019, 7:21 am

I can’t rival that, Fritz, but I did have lunch with Minnesota Fats once. He lived out his last few years in Nashville and my parents had him over.

Jesus, he was a boring old coot.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 28, 2019, 7:23 am

That’s sweet of you, P2, but I think Uncle B is just as happy with me not knowing anything about cricket. Those matches go on for days and days and I don’t think he’d appreciate my commentary.

Comment from DurnedYankee
Time: March 28, 2019, 3:52 pm

Krikkit! Krikkit! Krikkit!

Now use the Wikkit Gate to dissolve the slow time envelope and free the Krikkiters to complete their destruction of the universe, thus ending Cricket matches forever!

The other alternative is to put a “Somebody else’s problem field” around the cricket pitch so your brain won’t register there’s a game underway.

You’ll be amused to know Sweasy & Uncle B, here in North Texas (that’s right, TEXAS!!!!!), we have imported enough peoples of British influenced persuasion that we now have REAL local cricket pitches being built (not just re-purposed football fields – either real or American) and a league to play upon them.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: March 28, 2019, 6:51 pm

When I was a girl, I thought “putting some English” on something meant to hit it on the wrong side.

Comment from Cube
Time: March 28, 2019, 9:50 pm

I always thought “putting English” on a ball meant striking the ball with the cue stick slightly off-center, causing a ball to “curve” rather than go straight.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 28, 2019, 10:25 pm

It kind of does mean that, Cube, only that’s oddly specific.

Comment from p2
Time: March 28, 2019, 10:34 pm

That’s true…cricket does drag on. Now, snooker, there’s a game you get behind! Matches only go one for a couple hours and everybody wears fancy clothes. And one gets to use “english”!

Comment from JC
Time: March 29, 2019, 2:57 am

About this time last year I headed out my door, past the park where the kids were playing soccer, basketball, and baseball, over a couple blocks (so I WAS heading to the liquor store, but on my bicycle, where there were more kids playing soccer (but they called it ‘futbol’), and another group playing cricket on the slab of a demolished strip center.
I dodged ’em all, but nearly ran into a group of folks doing Tai Chi in the parking lot outside the CrossFit place next door to the liquor store. They were not CrossFit people, those folks were doing other healthy stuff, and they were not the women’s fitness group across the street, (They use a different parking lot).
This was just too much for me. I got off my bike, went into the store and got a quart instead of a fifth and 2 packs of Marlboro.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: March 29, 2019, 5:19 pm

@JC – You’re a man after my own heart, lungs, and liver!

For me, it’s Bulleit rye whiskey and Camels.

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