Making a pass

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 17, 2007

In Reply to: Making a pass posted by Smokey Stover on May 16, 2007

: : There's a whole series of phrases I can't seem to find origins for, all dealing with a similar topic:

: : - Making a pass at someone
: : - Making a play at someone
: : - Hitting on someone

: : Any thoughts?

: Let's start with no. 1, Making a pass at someone.

: Although I did not find this usage in the OED (probably through oversight), I believe that "take a pass at something," or "make a pass at something," can be used to mean make an effort, give it a try.

: This would be consonant with the use of "pass" in fencing, meaning "make a lunge or thrust." The OED gives as examples:
: 1604 SHAKESPEARE Haml. V. ii. 126 In a dozen passes betweene your selfe and him, hee shall not exceede you three hits. a1616 SHAKESPEARE Merry W. II. i. 211 In these times you stand on distance: your Passes, Stoccado's, and I know not what.

: In U.S. slang the entire phrase, "make a pass at someone," has two separate meanings. The first is to attack. In the words of the OED,

: "A threat of violence; an attempt to hit someone. Chiefly in to make a pass at.
: 1900 'J. FLYNT' & 'F. WALTON' Powers that Prey 156 It's time 't you get your graft in elsewhere. I ain't makin' no passes at you nor nothin', but if you sprint, you can catch that seven-thirty this evenin'. 1908 in G. H. Fleming Unforgettable Season 57 McGann..made a vicious pass at the Giants' manager. 1935 D. LAMSON We who are about to Die xi. 187 'Why you lyin' so-an'-so,' he says... An' he makes a pass at me. 1973 Playboy Jan. 240 'I could kill you, you know.' 'I don't know any such fuckin' thing... You ever made a pass at me, well, you better make a good one is all.'

: The OED also uses the version associated with what we may call rude courtship, which became literary with Dorothy Parker:

: "b. colloq. (orig. U.S.). An amorous or sexual advance. Also fig. Chiefly in to make a pass at.
: 1925 D. PARKER in World (N.Y.) 16 Aug. 3E/1 News Item... Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses...."

: I think I see the connections that made this use possible, once you accept that a lunge and an effort have been encompassed by this word for a long time.
No. 2, Make a play for someone.

The OED places this under the general rubric:

II. Exercise or action for enjoyment or recreation, and related senses.

Under that rubric is included:
"15. a. slang (orig. U.S.). An attempt to achieve or gain something; a move, a manoeuvre, a venture; spec. (a) Baseball, an action in which a player is put out; (b) N. Amer. Sport, an attacking move in a team game; (c) an attempt to sexually attract another person. Freq. in to make a play (for)."

You are interested in category (c), for which the OED provides these citations and more.

1905 'H. MCHUGH' Get Next! 75 His intentions are honorable and he wishes to prove them so by shooting his lady love if she renigs when he makes a play for her hand...1943 D. POWELL Time to be Born vi. 132 If you were twenty years younger I'd make a play for you, no fooling. 1961 P. FIELD Rattlesnake Ridge xiv. 170 It's the second time War Ax hands made a play for that money. 1966 P. G. WODEHOUSE Plum Pie i. 26 Grab the girl while the grabbing's good, because..your nephew Bertram is making a heavy play in her direction...."

Hitting on a girl. I can't find any straight line between this and the other uses of the verb "hit." You are referring, of course, to the meaning: make a romantic or sexual advance on someone. Th e OED cites as their first printed example, "1959 Esquire Nov. 70 To hit on a chick means to try and get intimate with her." By his need to explain the phrase the author indicates that it is somewhat new.

When you hit on a girl, you impinge on her, or on her space, if yo u like. That's the nearest I can come to explaining "Why hit?"