Throw a curveball and throw a curve

Throw a curveball and throw a curve are American idioms. 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 beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, 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 idioms throw a curveball and throw a curve, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

The expressions throw a curveball and throw a curve mean to surprise someone, to do, say or want something unexpected. To throw someone a curveball or to throw someone a curve often means to do something that puts them at a disadvantage. The phrases throw a curveball and throw a curve are derived from the American game of baseball. A curveball is a type of pitch that has a spin on it, making it deviate from a straight path through the air. The first curveball, also known as a slow ball, was thrown in the 1870s. The idiomatic use of the phrase throw a curveball didn’t come into use until the 1910s. The phrase is sometimes shortened to simply, throw a curve. Related phrases are throws a curveball or throw a curve, threw a curveball or threw a curve, throwing a curveball or throwing a curve. Note that the Oxford English Dictionary lists the word curveball as a closed compound word, with no hyphen or space between the words. Other dictionaries list it as an open compound word with a space between the words, as in curve ball.


The ventriloquist has now claimed producers threw him “many curveballs” prior to his performance and was left “gobsmacked” and “traumatised” by the events that unfolded.  (The Huffington Post)

When life throws you a curveball, and do not worry – this is not the last one, we can either curse it, swing at it, try and dodge it, or stay in the game and wait for the next pitch.  (The Guardian Liberty Voice)

But are you proud of your actions, spoken words or emotions when life gets a little tense, off track or throws you a curve? (The Midland Reporter-Telegram)

“Hardball’s” Chris Matthews threw a curve Monday night at South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg during a televised town hall program on MSNBC at Fresno State University in California. (The South Bend Tribune)

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