What Is Toss Up or Toss-Up? – Meaning & Definition

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

If you’ve found yourself in an uncertain situation and don’t have a clear idea of what comes next, you might describe the event as being a toss-up concerning your next move.

Obviously, to toss something up is an action describing the literal throwing of something upwards. But in this article, we are exploring how this phrasal verb became used as a noun. When describing an event or situation as a toss-up, you are explaining that there are likely equal outcomes and don’t prefer one over the other.

This is a great, descriptive word and should be hyphenated. However, writing it sans a hyphen is considered acceptable despite the possible confusion it can cause. That’s why it’s essential to look at its best use to ensure your audience is provided a clear and concise usage.

What Is the Meaning of Toss-Up?

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A toss-up is a situation that could go either way, a situation in which two different outcomes seem equally likely or equally desirable. A toss-up seems to have no clear criteria upon which to make a decision, and one might flip a coin and let fate decide the outcome.

Toss-up can be used in various situations concerning athletics, decision, and even politics. Anytime an unknown outcome of two or more scenarios is pending, the results could be a toss-up.

For example:

  • At this point, the game is a complete toss-up since both teams seem to be evenly matched.
  • I know you want me to make a decision, but at the moment, it’s a toss-up between the beach house or the mountain lake cabin for the summer retreat location.
  • This really is a toss-up situation, and more information will need to be gathered before we choose between the two.

Is It Toss-Up or Toss Up?

Used as a noun or as an adjective, toss-up is usually hyphenated but is sometimes rendered as toss up, unhyphenated.

However, the lack of hyphenation suggests its use as a phrasal verb, which could confuse your reader at first glance. Obviously, where it is used in context will help clarify, but it is best to write it hyphenated to avoid confusion.

Origin of Toss-Up

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To toss up something is a phrasal verb, offering the action of throwing something in an upward motion. It was used in the English language during the very early 1800s from the practice of tossing a coin in order to decide something that seems undecidable.

The action became synonymous with the unsurety of an outcome, and from there, it easily became a noun as a way to name the situation.

For example:

  • The entire game has been a toss-up from start to finish, and I’m still not betting on the outcome.

Let’s Review

Tossing a coin up to determine the outcome of something became popular in the early 1800s, and it didn’t take long for the phrasal verb to become a way to describe the situation the coin toss denoted. As a noun, toss-up should be spelled with a hyphen despite the acceptance of it being spelled without. To spell it without suggests its actionable use and could cause confusion for readers.