Give it the old college try

Give it the old college try is an idiom with a surprising origin. We will examine the meaning of the idiom give it the old college try, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

To give it the old college try means to put forth one’s very best effort, often to an outsized degree. Usually, but not always, give it the old college try refers to an attempt made to achieve something with a high risk of failure. The expression give it the old college try came not from the college campus, but from the baseball diamond. At the turn of the century, a player was said to give it the old college try when attempting to make a play like a heroic attempt at catching a fly ball that was very far out of the player’s reach. Supposedly, the phrase referenced the enthusiasm of an amateur athlete playing for his college team. The term give it the old college try was quoted in Babe Ruth’s book in the 1920s, and the phrase entered the American language to mean any heroic attempt to achieve something, especially something with a high risk of failure. Related phrases are gives it the old college try, gave it the old college try, giving it the old college try.

Examples

There’s nothing wrong with a slapdash film and “Vampires vs. the Bronx” gives it the old college try. (The Rome Sentinel)

I’m all in favor of giving it the old college try (or the old professional try, as the case may be). (The Spokesman-Review)

“Anyone can give it the old college try and sink a lot of money and lose a lot of money fast,” he said. (Reuters)

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