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Out of left field

  • Out of left field is an idiom that originated in America. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom out of left field, from where this expression is derived, and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    Out of left field describes something that takes one by surprise, something that is unexpected or perhaps incongruous. The phrase out of left field may refer to something that is odd or does not fit. The idiom out of left field is taken from American baseball terminology, and its earliest use seems to stem from the 1950s. Its origin is unknown. Some say it was a phrase borrowed by the songwriters in Tin Pan Alley to mean a song that is a surprise success. Others say that the expression stems from a Chicago ballpark that was located near a mental institution, which was located behind the baseball diamond’s left field. Supposedly, the mental patients heckled players and spectators from behind left field.

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    Examples

    The way they got there had too many unexplained pieces and parts, stuff that came out of left field and stuff that just didn’t make any sense. (The York News-Times)

    The former told CNN last week that when Trump told four congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries, it “just came out of left field” and “hit a lot of us in the gut.” (The Stillwater News Press)

    Though Denk played it with less transparency than Lambert did, it produced a three-minute-long grin that came out of left field. (The Aspen Times)

    Hill’s ethics inquiry came out of left field when Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), a long-standing critic of the project, filed an ethics complaint with the FPPC. (The Los Angeles Times)


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