The old college try

Posted by Masakim on April 06, 2002

In Reply to: The old college try posted by R. Berg on April 06, 2002

: : Where does this expression come from, and what exactly does it mean? Does it refer to effort put for by students, college as a time of experimentation, or something else entirely?

: Effort, not experimentation.
: From Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day:
: "give it the old college try" . . . : Do one's utmost, though success is uncertain. Gen. US from c. 1960. [Older than that, I think -- R.B.] Paraphrased, if not actually quoted, from one or more of the innumerable 'rah rah' college football films of the 1930s and 40s, the burden of which was that you can win if you try, no matter what the odds. Hence often with a certain ironic twist, sometimes becoming equivalent to "Go through the motions, even if little or nothing is accomplished."

old college try A wild and desperate attempt to make a play. Sometimes the term carries a hint of showboating. Babe Ruth (_Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball_, 1928) defined "giving it the old college try" as "playing to the grandstand or making strenuous effort to field a ball that obviously cannot be handled." In a column that appeared in the _Columbus_ (Ohio) _Citizen_ (Nov. 26, 1927) and was quoted in _American Speech_ (Apr. 1930), Billy Evans wrote that "I gave it the old college try" is a term "often used in big league baseball, when some player keeps on going after a fly ball, usually in foul territory, with the odds about ten to one he would never reach it. Teammates of such a player often beat him to it by shouting in unison with the thought of humor uppermost: 'Well, kid, you certainly gave it the old college try,' as he falls short of making the catch." Evans continued: "When some player does something that a professional player might not ordinarily attempt, such as colliding with a fielder who had the ball ready to touch him out, in the hope that he might make him drop the ball, regardless of the danger he was courting, someone is sure to say, often ironically, if the speaker happens to be one of the players in the field: 'That's the old college spirit.'" Extended Use. The term was quickly applied to any effort with limited chances of success.
From _The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary_ by Paul Dickson.

Everyone was gunning for the Packers, giving it the old college try. (_Time_, Dec 21, 1962)