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Spitballing is an idiom that came into use in the twentieth century. 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 that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, 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 spitballing, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Spitballing is throwing out ideas for discussion, brainstorming, expressing solutions to a problem in order to see how they are received. Spitballing is not a definitive solution or conclusion, and is often not taken seriously. The word spitball was first used in the 1700s to mean a tool to blacken one’s boots. Later, the word spitball was used to mean a chewed up wad of paper used as a missile by a child. Still later, a spitball was a certain type of baseball pitch that involved applying spit to the ball to make it wobble. Spitballing came into use as early as the 1930s, and perhaps earlier. The exact origin is in dispute, but most people believe in originated in the advertising business. Related words are spitball, spitballs, spitballed.


President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election bid campaign manager, Brad Parscale, might have only been spitballing when he told Republican Party delegates gathered at Indian Wells, California on Sunday the Trumps are “a dynasty that will last for decades.” (The International Business Times)

If Eric Rohmer and Olivier Assayas spent an afternoon spitballing a family drama over coffee, they might have come up with something a lot like Frankie. (NOW Magazine)

On Twitter, filmmaker Sean Baker spitballed a “theatrical tier” to Netflix’s pricing plan that, for a nominal fee, would allow the streamer’s subscribers to see Netflix films in theaters for free. (The Gazette)

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