Swing for the fences is an American idiom that has been in use since 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 such as beat around the bush, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chine up, 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 idiom swing for the fences, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
To swing for the fences means to put one’s full effort into an endeavor with the intention of achieving in an overwhelming manner. The idiom swing for the fences comes from American baseball. In baseball, the fences being discussed in this phrase are the boundaries of the playable field. If a ball is hit over these fences, it is a home run and the runner scores with no opposition from the fielding team. If one hits a home run he scores without any dispute, but hitting a home run is difficult. Therefore, the idiom swing for the fences often carries the connotation of trying to obtain something that is too difficult to obtain and has a high rate of failure. Other times, the idiom swing for the fences is used as an encouragement to set high goals. The phrase swing for the fences came into use in the twentieth century, related phrases are swings for the fences, swung for the fences, swinging for the fences.
With a work ethic that her husband Peter Hermann marvels at (“Every day you go in and swing for the fences,” he says), Hargitay has no intention of slowing down. (People Magazine)
The Amazon CEO referenced the metaphor that if you swing for the fences in baseball, you’re going to hit some home runs—but you’ll also strike out a lot. (Fortune Magazine)
One is a politician hitting consistent singles and doubles, and the other is willing to swing for the fences, striving for that into-the-water homer — even when their bat meets nothing but air. (The San Francisco Examiner)