Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2004 / 19 Tishrei, 57645
Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
'Hat trick', 'rubber game' or 'rubber match'; source of 'spin doctor'; 'trope'
Where and when did the terms "hat trick'' and "rubber game'' or "rubber match'' originate, and for which game or sport were they originally meant?
W.A., Nutley, N.J.
It is likely that "hat trick'' was originally applied to the feat in cricket of dismissal by the bowler of three batsmen with three consecutive balls. Apparently, cricket bowlers who accomplished this feat were awarded a bonus of a new hat. The earliest printed evidence of this "hat trick'' is from 1882. The term is now applied to hockey and soccer as well, and means the scoring of three goals - not necessarily consecutively - by one player in one game. Another sport in which this term has been adopted is horse racing, where it is used when a jockey rides a winner in three consecutive races or wins an annual race for three consecutive years. More broadly, the term can be applied to any triple accomplishment, even one that occurs outside the domain of sports.
A "rubber'' is a series of usually three games, where the third decides the winner if both players or teams have one win each after playing twice. "Rubber'' is also used to refer to the third and deciding contest - the "rubber game'' or "rubber match'' - in such a series. The earliest known printed use of "rubber'' in these senses is from 1599.
Exactly how these uses of "rubber'' originated isn't known. Early evidence relates the term to the game of bowls. At least one theorist has suggested that it is somehow derived from the use of "rubber'' in bowls to refer to two woods "rubbing'' together in a collision. We know of no evidence supporting this theory, however, and the connection strikes us as highly dubious.
In connection with the presidential campaign, I've been hearing about the so-called "spin doctors.'' Can you tell me when the term "spin doctor'' was coined, and how it came to have its meaning?
E.A., Waltham, Mass.
A spin doctor is a person, such as a presidential aide, who is responsible for ensuring that others interpret an event from a particular point of view. The effort of a spin doctor is called "spin control,'' which has been aptly described as a form of "news management.''
"Spin doctor'' became popular in the early 1980s. The term is a combination of a sense of "spin'' meaning "a special point of view, emphasis, or interpretation controlling a presentation'' and a sense of "doctor'' meaning "a person who repairs or restores things'' or perhaps simply "a practitioner.'' This sense of "spin'' may have derived from the figurative use of "spin'' in the expression "to spin a yarn,'' but a more likely explanation connects it to the spin placed on a ball to control its movement or delivery, as in tennis or billiards.
"Spin doctor'' has moved out of the strictly political arena and into the terminology of public relations in general. A news magazine, for example, has run an article about "savvy movie publicists, the spin doctors of the entertainment industry.''
A recent crossword puzzle contained the word "trope'' meaning "figure of speech.'' What exactly is a trope? Can you give some examples?
G.G., Erie, Pa.
Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines "trope'' as "the use of a word or expression in a different sense from that which properly belongs to it for giving life or emphasis to an idea.'' The term is also used to refer to an individual word or expression that is used in such a way. So "trope'' does not denote a particular kind of figure of speech but is instead a broad, inclusive term. Metaphor, simile, hyperbole (exaggeration), and synecdoche (in which a part is used to represent a whole, as in "wheels'' for "car'') are all varieties of trope. In fact, almost any word or phrase that is not to be taken literally (such as "He's a sly fox'') can be designated a trope.
"Trope'' comes from the Greek noun "tropos,'' meaning "turn'' or "style,'' from the verb "trepein,'' meaning "to turn.'' The word most often appears in the context of literary analysis and criticism, as in the following passage found in our citations: "Through allusions, euphemisms, and the use of all kinds of tropes the reader is intended to arrive at the conclusion that his author is familiar with the best authors on whom he can draw freely, if the occasion demands it.''
Appreciate this column? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
09/22/04:' Redux'; 'elan'; 'swan-neck'
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services