The Game is Afoot – Meaning, Origin and Usage

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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.

The English language contains phrases and sayings derived from figurative language use. This can become confusing for English language learners since they don’t often translate to a literal meaning in a way that makes sense.

The game is afoot is one such saying that offers a figurative indication of a beginning challenge. It first appeared over 500 years ago when Shakespeare made it up and has continued to be popular in writing and entertainment ever since.

The Game is Afoot: What Does it Mean?

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The game is afootis an idiom or saying that contains a figurative meaning different from the phrase’s literal meaning. The game is afoot means that something is beginning, something has started, or a challenge has begun. It is used toimply that something has begun or is starting to get exciting and interesting.

It can also mean to accept a challenge.

In a literal sense, game refers to wild game, or animals you hunt. The phrase could be used to say the hunt is on the move, or the animals are running.

What is Another Phrase for The Game is Afoot?

Many synonymous phrases can be used in place of the game is afoot. Some more popular ones include:

  • Game on
  • Challenge accepted
  • Bring it
  • The game is on
  • So, it begins
  • The process is underway
  • Something has begun

Origin of The Game is Afoot

The game is afoot ngram
Popularity of the saying, “The Game is Afoot”.

Shakespeare is not only known for his timeless dramas; he is equally famous for his use of language. Shakespeare coined hundreds of words and phrases we use today, including the game is afoot, unknowingly paying homage to the famous bard.

The saying first appeared in King Henry IV Part 1, written in 1597. It didn’t gain popularity until the early 1900s with the widespread publications of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character, Sherlock Holmes. And the saying didn’t truly make its way into everyday language until the detective television series aired in the mid-1950s, appealing to adventure and mystery lovers.

Examples of Let The Game is Afoot in a Sentence

For Arbitragers, the Game Is Afoot Once Again [New York Times]

Cinematographer Flavio Labiano’s camera never leaves the plane while the game is afoot, and Jim May’s editing and John Ottman’s music add to the pressure. [Orlando Sentinel]

“The game is afoot,” writes Bob Muldoon ’81 in his Boston Globe essay about his annual quest for the first sign of spring. [Boston Globe]

Let’s Review

The idiom, the game is afoot, is used figuratively to explain that a challenge has been accepted or begun. It implies the beginning of something new and exciting and was first used in this manner by Shakespeare in the 1500s.

It was revived in an original text in the late 1800s, gaining in popularity with the publications of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes through the early 1900s. These stories were later televised, making the saying a more common occurrence.