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Ever wonder where phrases like slam dunk and March Madness came from? Well here’s a little history of some familiar sports slang. Before I get started, I think it’s only fair that I publicly admit I’m not the biggest sports fan. Granted, I loved playing sports in high school. I was on the JV basketball team. I ran track and field for three years and tried my hand at volleyball until I realized that it wasn’t my forte.

Another guilty admission is I live in one of the biggest, fanatical sports towns in the U.S.—Pittsburgh. There are Steelers’ bars around the world! The other day I drove past PNC Park where the Pirates, affectionately called The Bucks, were playing a home game. The stadium was packed. That isn’t usual for Pirates games but apparently they’ve been doing quite well.

The season for cheering fans, fantasy baseball and football teams and some heated screaming at the television during important games has begun. It’s nearing fall and our Steelers are taking the field again. The Bucks are drawing in record crowds and The Pittsburgh Penguins will be hitting the ice to start their 2013-2014 season soon.

There have been times that I feared for my safety when a local Pittsburgher asked me if I owned any Black and Gold paraphernalia and I sheepishly replied, “No.” So I’m probably not convincing anyone that I’m a perfect candidate to write about the history of sports slang, but a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook: Boom Shakalaka, Beast Mode and the Origin of Popular Sports Phrases and it caught my attention.

So here’s a list of my favorite sports slang and its history

1. No Holds Barred-–the holds part refers to wrestling holds that were typically illegal and sometimes dangerous, but now this phrase has entered the everyday lexicon and generally means ‘anything goes’ or ‘having no restraints.’

Here’s a few sentences that show the everyday usage of No holds barred: “I intend to argue it out with Mary, no holds barred. When Ann negotiates a contract, she goes in with no holds barred and comes out with a good contract.”–from The Free Dictionary.com

2. Win One for the Gipper—an inspirational phrase to rally a team. It originated from a speech made by a Notre Dame coach in 1928 referring to one of the school’s all-time best players, George Gipp. Ronald Reagan played ‘The Gipper’ in the film, Knute Rockne, All American.

3. Put Up Your Dukes—apparently not all Dukes of the Royal British Family are privileged weaklings. Prince Frederick, the Duke of York (1763-1827) took up boxing and hence the origin of this phrase.

From The Free Dicitonary.com: “He’s telling you to put up your dukes. Put up your dukes and be a man!”

4. Second String—this phrase has a literal meaning which refers to the second string that archers carried with them in case their first string broke. Everyone knows the meaning of this phrase in sports. It refers to backup or substitute players. This phrase even has its usage outside of the sports world, and it’s not flattering.

Now you can be one of those annoying people at The Big Game Night Party and regale everyone with trivia about the origin of the most popular American sports slang.

—Erin Dougherty

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