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Play out the string

Posted by Lewis on October 09, 2006

In Reply to: Play out the string posted by Smokey Stover on October 08, 2006

: : In sports, we often hear that when a team ahs lost all hope of reaching the championship (or postseason) they "play out the string". What string are they referring to?

: You've no doubt heard of first string, second string, etc. The first string are the starters, the players who give the team the best chance to win. The second string are backups and sometimes next year's starters (in collegiate teams). If you know you're going to lose, it makes sense to give everyone, especially the bench-warmers, the chance to play.
: SS

with North American sport, I have no doubt that the meaning is as suggested - when I used to watch ice hockey I think I can recall the team having 'strings' (or 'lines') which may have been named such because the players came out onto the ice in sequence rather than bunched up as a group.
However, whilst the word 'string' could be applied to those second-choice players, how that expression came about appears less certain to me: orchestras have a heirarchy and the First Violin is usually the leader of the orchestra, after the conductor (there may be a technical difference in title, but I am talking de facto). The First Violin takes the lead and even where there is not a complete orchestra, the violin/fiddle would often take the lead in pre-amplification days hence the expression 'playing second fiddle' to somebody came about.
second string/second fiddle are fairly similar expressions, used depending on the degree of formality in the musical group - people do not call the first violinist of an orchestra the 'first fiddle', but in jazz/folk/informal quartets, the suppporting violinists could often be 'second fiddle'.
So whilst in context, 'play out the string' is likely to derive from the likes of ice-hockey, there are similar expressions in music, which would pre-date the sport and which may have led to the use of that description.
also - race horses under the same ownership are also called 'a string'.
just a few thoughts.