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Re: Fever pitch

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 21, 2006

In Reply to: Fever pitch posted by MaryKate on June 21, 2006

: My fiancee and I are trying to discover the history of the phrase "fever pitch"... we are debating if it is in reference to sickness or if it has to do with 'pitch' (tar)... anyhow any help would be MOST appreciated!

I can't be entirely sure of what it meant to the first personusing this phrase, but I am entirely sure that it has nothing to do with sickness, except in that it borrows the word fever, nor with the substance called pitch.

Fever you associate with an elevated temperature. Pitch has numerous meanings, many--perhaps most--related directly or indirectly to the idea of angle of slope, or declivity or inclination, as in the pitch of a roof (or just pitched roof), or the pitch of the ground. A meaning that I regard as a derived meaning is also a commonly occuring one, rendered by the Oxford English Dictionary as:
" VI. Height in a figurative sense; degree.
24. a. The comparative degree or intensity of any quality or attribute; a point or position on an ideal or abstract scale; elevation, stage, status, level.
Usually implying a high or intense level: cf. senses 19a, 23,"

Under this rubric it includes references to pitch as used in music, from low to high, senses 25a and 25b. This corresponds to the frequency of sound waves, with pitch being used for our perception.

Without an exhaustive search, I would be inclined to settle for something like "an abnormally hot intensity; to a heightened degree."

My knowledge of the use of this phrase goes back only to the twentieth century. I don't know if it was used earlier.