Face off
Posted: 27 October 2007 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This is a phrasal verb suggesting confrontation.  Is the origin from ice hockey, in which there is a face-off for the puck,
or does face off exist independently of sport?

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Posted: 27 October 2007 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’ve heard it in non-sporting contexts, but the origin is sports, probably lacrosse, from which it transferred to ice hockey. The OED2 has 1896 for what appears to be an ice hockey usage and 1898 for lacrosse. The form face from 1867 in a lacrosse context.

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Posted: 27 October 2007 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks for the quick reply.  The OED doesn’t really give any etymology for the phrasal verb, but all the noun references point, as you say,
to ice hockey or to lacrosse.  I don’t have reason to doubt the lacrosse>hockey>popular figurative usage, but was hoping for something a little
more definitive than the OED entry, maybe even an interesting surprise.

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Posted: 27 October 2007 03:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The OED doesn’t even really list the modern sense of the phrasal verb.  The only verb uses of “face off” are a 1958 lacrosse citation, transitive, with the ball as the object, and an 1887 citation in which it has the sense of “to turn aside (spec. the current of a stream)”, again transitive, with the stream as the object.  The modern intransitive sense “They faced off across the the conference table” is not treated.  Presumably it will be included when the revision gets to the F’s, but that will be a while.

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Posted: 27 October 2007 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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In a glance at Google Books pre-1950, I find verbal “face off” [’intransitive’, i.e., without express object] in hockey from 1902, in lacrosse from 1895. I don’t see a non-sports-related instance in similar sense.

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Posted: 29 October 2007 01:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Reminiscent of “bully off” in field hockey (or rather, in hockey, since “ice hockey” is the derivative term) which describes a confrontational situation in the game.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 10:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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lionello - 29 October 2007 01:04 PM

Reminiscent of “bully off” in field hockey ,,, which describes a confrontational situation in the game.

“Bully off” used to be the word used for what in football is called the kick-off, rather than “a confrontational situation”. It’s nearly 40 years since I last played hockey, but I know a man who does, and these days at the start of a game

A bully-off, where two players line up opposite each other and tap their stick on the ground and then against each other’s stick before competing for the ball, is no longer used

... instead the game begins with a push-back from the centre spot. However, a “bully” is still the name given to a restart after play has stopped for reasons other than a penalty (eg injury). The OED seems to suggest that “bully” in this sense comes from a word used in Eton football (ie football as played at Eton School) for a mêlée or scrimmage. I wonder why ice hockey and lacross use “face off” instead ...

“I went to school with a pride of lions.”
“Eton?”
“Damn’ nearly ...”

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