Sunday, October 19, 2014

Third-Guessing the Second

A baseball story in today’s New York Times (appropriately, it turns out) used the word second-guessing far too often not to capture my attention. The realization came that I couldn’t actually “picture” that phrase. I know what it means—in a vague sort of way—but what does it really mean.

As always Online Etymology Dictionary cleared the matter up for me. And (that “appropriately” above comes into focus): the phrase had its origins in baseball slang. The second-guesser is that rude, loud fellow bellowing in the stands and shaking his fist at the umpire. And the umpire, OED informs me, is actually the first-guesser. That is because, in baseball slang, the umpire was once known as the “guesser,” no doubt so labeled by the same cynical people who doubted that he saw things correctly.

It surprised me further that the phrase is younger than I am, by a year, having first been put in print in 1937. The verb form of it, “to second-guess” is even younger: 1941.

Third-guessing, thus the process of explaining word origins by copying other people’s documented wisdom, is a form first introduced, here, on October 19, 2014. May it sail on…

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