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Sinistr-

Posted by Bruce Kahl on October 24, 2002

In Reply to: Something sinister? posted by Shae on October 24, 2002

: : : : : : : : : I've had another request from North America for something that's a bit beyond my knowledge. I guess the expression has to do with Baseball, but I'd love to know the details. The writer comes from Canada, but his name sounds French - perhaps he's not interested in Baseball! Help again please.
: : : : : : : : : Quote:
: : : : : : : : : "Here's one that I have not been able to uncover... "Out of left field" as in "something came out of left field". I'm curious to know the origin of this saying"

: : : : : : : : For more discussion search under "field" in the archives. The way I've heard it: "He's out in left field."

: : : : : : : : WAY OUT IN LEFT FIELD - Out of touch, eccentric, odd; also, misguided. This term alludes to the left field of baseball, and there is some disagreement concerning its origin. Some writers suggest it comes from the remoteness of left field, but only in very asymmetrical ballparks is left field more distant than right field. Others suggest it alludes to the 'wrongness' of left as opposed to the 'rightness' of right. A correspondent of William Safire's in the "New York Times" said it was an insulting remark made to those who bought left-field seats in New York's Yankee Stadium during the years that Babe Ruth played right field, putting them far away from this outstanding player. Perhaps the most likely theory is that it alludes to inmates of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, a mental hospital, which was located behind left field in Chicago's old West Side Park. Hence being told you are 'out in left field' would mean you were accused of being as peculiar as a mental patient. In any event, the term has been used figuratively for various kinds of eccentricity and misguidedness since the first half of the 20th century. John Ciardi also cited a synonym, 'out in left pickle,' maintaining that 'pickle' was baseball slang for the outfield. Perhaps it once was, but it is no longer current." "Southpaws & Sunday Punches and other Sporting Expressions" by Christine Ammer (Penguin Books, New York, 1993).

: : : : : : : I've heard "out of left field" as a rough equivalent of "off the wall." If a remark "comes out of left field," it's a non sequitur.

: : : : : : Although from the land of cricket rather than that silly game of rounders that you all get excited about in the US, and although my primary source of Americanisms is imported TV shows, I've always believed this expression to be "out of left field", meaning bizarre or unconnected, just as Ms. Berg says.

: : : : : : A raw googlefight gives 14,300 for "of" and 10,200 for "in", if anyone's remotely interested.

: : : : : Both are valid. Left field is far away, and "wrong" as left always is -- so an unexpected idea, one that comes from no connected thread, a non sequitur, is said to come from out of left field. The semi-goofy person that issues such utterances is said to be out in left field, far away from the conventional and connected. (Our position, of course, is at home plate*, because these judgments are all relative to you and me, who are, need I add, perfectly normal.) *where the batsman stands, facing the bowler ....

: : : : You mean, at the crease. Actually, I have to give it to the US here, because "out of left field" is a lot more zippy an expression than any mythical Brit equivalent, which might be something like "from near the mid-off boundary" or "from deep in the covers".

: : : I'll say. Nothing slows my progress (well, yes, to a halt) in doing British crossword puzzles than being expected to know cricket crap. I mean, asking the first name of an Aussie batsman who scored prodigiously in the '30s is a question that comes out of lef -- oh, never mind.

: : Don(ald) Bradman. We're about to get pasted in another Ashes series over the coming weeks, too. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

: Dunno if it has any relevance, but the left or sinistral side is usually associated with danger or evil in medieval art. In depictions of Adam and Eve, for example, Eve the Temptress is always on Adam's left side.

Main Entry: sin·is·ter
Etymology: from Latin sinistr-, sinister on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious