Boom Shakalaka, Beast Mode and the Origin of Popular Sports Phrases

Eric NewmanCorrespondent IIIAugust 13, 2013

Boom Shakalaka, Beast Mode and the Origin of Popular Sports Phrases

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    You hear them all the time. You see them written up in magazines and on sports websites. You probably even use a lot of them. But have you ever contemplated from whence they came?

    Some of these phrase origins will undoubtedly surprise you—and make you the big trivia tournament winner at your local watering hole.

    Click on and witness your academic nemeses—history and language arts—show their fun sides.

Boom Shakalaka

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    Meaning: The sound of an epic slam dunk

    Origin: Years before the creative minds who brought you NBA Jam added the famous sound byte to their game, Sly and the Family Stone, a funk band from the 60s crooned out the famous explosion (boom!) and ensuing concussion (shakalaka) in their hit song "I Want To Take You Higher."

No Holds Barred

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    Meaning: No restrictions

    Origin: The hold in the expression refers to wrestling holds. Some bouts were free-form (unregulated, and often quite dangerous) and so any hold could be utilized. The earliest usage that researcher Gary Martin uncovered was this one from a February 1892 issue of the Manitoba Daily Free Press:

    "Wm. Gibbs, the Kansas man, and Dennis Gallacher, of Buffalo, engaged in a wrestling match at the opera house here tonight. Gibbs was strangled into insensibility and may die. The conditions of the match were best two in three falls Greco-Roman style; no holds barred."

Hat Trick

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    Meaning: A trio of goals scored by a single player during a single game

    Origin: Sorry hockey fans and soccer fans, but according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term was first used with the sport of cricket. First usage dates back to 1879 when supposedly taking three wickets on three consecutive deliveries entitled a player to a new hat courtesy of his club.

    The usage of the term in hockey and other sports wasn't until about 30 years later. 

March Madness

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    Meaning: The annual NCAA basketball championship tournament

    Origin: According to a New York Times article, in 1939 Henry V. Porter, assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, penned this about the boys basketball tournament the association had been holding since 1908:

    "[a] little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel."

    The term was used now and then by sports writers, but it wasn't directly associated with the NCAA tournament until about 1985 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

    Then, boom went the lexicographical dynamite! Now the term is as embedded in our culture as Mickey Mouse and Big Macs.

Win One for the Gipper

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    Meaning: Spoken to inspire a team, usually an underdog team, to go out and pull off a victory

    Origin: According to the University of Notre Dame archives, legendary coach Knute Rockne spoke the words during a speech to the Notre Dame players at halftime of the 1928 Army game. The Gipper (George Gipp), one of Notre Dame's all-time greatest players, had died tragically of a throat infection.

    The phrase was made ever more popular with the release of the film Knute Rockne, All American in 1940 with then future President Ronald Reagan playing the role of the ailing Gipper.

In the Zone

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    Meaning: In a state of performance excellence; a state in which one is playing his or her best and everything is going his or her way

    Origin: Two camps on this one. Those that hold with tennis star Arthur Ashe as the originator, and those that hold with baseball star Ted Williams (pictured here) as the originator.

    Reportedly Williams said when he was in the zone, he could "see the seams of the baseball as it came whirling to the plate at 100 mph!"

It Is What It Is

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    Meaning: A fluffy non-answer to an interview question

    For about 3 or 4 seconds after the first athlete uttered those words, we may have been duped. The words seemed deep, philosophical and cool. Then we realized the phrase was the cheapest, silliest and lamest tool of evasion out there. Just answer the damn question, athletes. Define what the it is.

    Origin: Although the phrase may seem fairly modern—a Slate article named it the "reigning sports cliché"—its non-sport use dates back centuries. English theologian and philosopher Joseph Butler (1692-1752) is credited with the witticism, "Every thing is what it is, and not another thing," which most likely spawned the version we know today.

Put Up Your Dukes

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    Meaning: Raise your fists and prepare to fight

    Origin: Apparently Prince Frederick, the Duke of York (1763-1827) surprised British society when he took up the sport of boxing—not your typical royal family endeavor.

    But the move earned him respect; boxers began to refer to their fists as "Dukes of York." The term was later shortened to simply "dukes."

He Could...Go...All...The...Way

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    Meaning: Announcer catch phrase barked out staccato style when a player has a strong chance of running the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.

    Origin: Howard Cosell originated it and made it popular, Chris Berman adopted it and made it viral.

Second String

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    Meaning: Substitute, backup

    Origin: The term initially had a literal meaning; it reportedly originates from the second bow string that archers carried with them in case their first string broke. Merriam-Webster Dictionary puts the first known use as 1922.

To Posterize Someone

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    Meaning: To embarrass or humble someone, especially by dunking over them

    Origin: cites a possible genesis for the term: A spectacular dunk over another player is likely to be graphically immortalized in print—possibly even featured on a wall poster.

    The earliest known citation is from a 1993 article in The Washington Times: "Michael Jordan ... is impossible to defend not because he can "posterize" you but because he brings a complete package to work."

Beast Mode

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    Meaning: In performance overdrive; gushing with adrenaline, tossing opponents left and right

    Origin: Possibly from the 1988 Sega video game "Altered Beast" in which a centurion collects power-ups to transform into a butt-kicking beast. Check out some game play here. Look for the beast-i-fication at about the 1:10 mark.

    The term gained popularity in sports when it was associated with Marshawn Lynch and his knack for grabbing up extra yardage when it seems all but impossible.