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Sports Idioms

Average: 1.8 (167 votes)

As you know, learning English is more than just learning vocabulary words and grammar rules. To really know the language, you have to know the culture. American football is such a big part of American culture that the vocabulary from this great sport (please hold the chuckles) has seeped into everyday use.

The season opens on Thursday, September 10th with last year's champion, the Pittsburgh Steelers, playing the Tennessee Titans.

So, I have five words from the world of AMERICAN FOOTBALL. These words are all very common and easily understood by native speakers.

1. score a touchdown – to be successful, reach your objective.
"Steve really scored a touchdown with that presentation."

2. fumble the ball – to fail.
"Phil was supposed to deliver the food, but he fumbled the ball."

3. underdog – the least likely to succeed.
"I can't believe he got the job, he was a real underdog."

4. second-string – a less skilled person.
"If Chris gets sick, we’ll have some second-string teacher."

5. kick-off – to start or begin.
"Let's kick-off this meeting with a look at last week's sales."

Not being familiar with the sport can present obstacles when trying to understand idiomatic expressions or conversations with football references. As a matter of fact, I have heard many political speeches with sports related vocabulary or references. Sarah Palin’s resignation speech as Governor of Alaska used the analogy of playing basketball with comments made about "point guards" and "full-court presses". Below is an excerpt from her resignation speech given this summer:

"Let me go back to a comfortable analogy for me - sports... basketball. I use it because you're naive if you don't see the national full-court press picking away right now: A good point guard drives through a full court press, protecting the ball, keeping her eye on the basket... and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can WIN. And I'm doing that - keeping our eye on the ball that represents sound priorities - smaller government, energy independence, national security, freedom! And I know when it's time to pass the ball - for victory." - excerpt from Sarah Palin's resignation speech.

Can you match the meaning of the basketball references used in Sarah Palin's speech? Type in the letter of each definition next to the correct key-word:

a. goal objective
b. one who directs the offense
c. to be careful
d. to advance, maneuver
e. an aggressive defense

By Thomas Williams, EC San Diego

Do you know these idioms with 'Get'?


  • 1. full-court press.
  • 2. point guard.
  • 3. basket.
  • 4. drives.
  • 5. protect the ball.