Sources of Slang
Posted: 27 July 2018 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I was watching one of the hot rod shows and I remembered the term “souped up” from my youth.

A little research shows that it comes from performance enhancing drugs used in horse racing referred to as “soup” and so a horse that has been given these to run faster is “souped up.” It’s an easy jump to a souped up deuce.

But it seems like yet another expression from the world of horse racing. Is horse racing particularly fruitful for these kinds of expressions? Is there any one area of life more likely to spawn these kinds of phrases than any other area of life? Seems like sports, in general might be a candidate.

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Posted: 27 July 2018 07:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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World Wide Words is most reliable on such things:

Souped-up must at root derive from super, as in supercharger. This term for a device to increase the pressure of the fuel-air mixture in an engine to improve its performance is known from 1919. Versions of the device had been invented much earlier, but the term was created to refer to one developed for aero engines by Sanford A Moss of General Electric in 1918.

However, there’s almost certainly a connection with the foodstuff, which would account for the shift in spelling. Soup has at times been a slang term applied to several murky liquids. If you’re a fan of American detective stories, you may know soup as a term for the nitroglycerine that was employed in safe-cracking, a slang term widely used in newspaper reports of criminal activity from about 1900 onwards (it was called soup because it was extracted from dynamite by immersing the sticks in boiling water). And it was recorded in Webster’s Dictionary in 1911 that soup was “any material injected into a horse with a view to changing its speed or temperament”.

It seems that supercharger combined with the racing and criminal senses of soup to make souped-up.

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Posted: 27 July 2018 09:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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From a quick look, I’m not so sure how common the horse racing term was. The OED (an older entry) has one citation under “miscellaneous uses”:

1909 Webster’s New Internat. Dict. Eng. Lang.  Soup,..any material injected into a horse with a view to changing its speed or temperament. Racing Cant.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang doesn’t record it all.

For souped up, the OED has as a first citation:

1931 Automotive Industries 30 May 826/1 Ray Keech’s run at Daytona Beach in the White Triplex powered with three ‘souped-up’ Liberty engines.

And for the verb, it has the telling first citation:

1933 C. K. Stewart Speech Amer. Airman 92 Soup Up, to supercharge.

I agree with Oecolampadius and World Wide Words, the term pretty clearly comes from supercharge/supercharger. The horse racing term may have influenced it, but I doubt it was a primary source. It may have first arisen in aviation slang, and then transferred to automobiles.

Is horse racing particularly fruitful for these kinds of expressions?

Any and all fields of endeavor generate their own slang used by the in-group. The more trenchant question is whether or not those terms break out of that field and make it into general parlance. Most fields don’t have the power to do this on a wide scale. The notable exception is baseball, which, because it dominated American sporting life for so long (it’s hard for us today to appreciate how integral baseball was to American life in the early twentieth century; it truly was the national pastime). Think of expressions like out of left field or batting one thousand, which are used in contexts far removed from the sport. In comparison, souped up is limited in application to the performance of engines. Horse racing probably does better than most in that it is very popular and the terminology has the opportunity to spread, but it doesn’t come close to the influence baseball has had on the language.

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Posted: 29 July 2018 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The notable exception is baseball, which, because it dominated American sporting life for so long (it’s hard for us today to appreciate how integral baseball was to American life in the early twentieth century; it truly was the national pastime). Think of expressions like out of left field or batting one thousand, which are used in contexts far removed from the sport. In comparison, souped up is limited in application to the performance of engines. Horse racing probably does better than most in that it is very popular and the terminology has the opportunity to spread, but it doesn’t come close to the influence baseball has had on the language.

Not, however, on Rightpondian language. (It’s true that ‘out of left field’ has gained a certain currency in Rightpondia in the last decade or so, but I can honestly say that I have never heard of batting one thousand before today, and have not the slightest idea what it might mean.)

Conversely, in all English-speaking countries except Leftpondia, cricket has given a wide range of phrases to the language. Here, just off the top of my head, are some cricket-related idioms that are understood everywhere from Yorkshire to Adelaide via Bangalore, a few of which have even crossed the Pond:

bat for the other side
batting average
bowl (someone) over
break one’s duck
catch (someone) out
draw stumps
(to) field (i.e. retrieve someone or something)
a good innings
(bowl a) googly hat trick
hit for six
keep one’s end up
let (it) through to the keeper
long-stop
not cricket
off one’s own bat
on the back/front foot
(keep) a straight bat
send down a bouncer
spin (as in spin doctor)
sticky wicket
(be) stumped
swing both ways

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Posted: 29 July 2018 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I can honestly say that I have never heard of batting one thousand before today, and have not the slightest idea what it might mean.

It baseball, batting average is measured by a percentage with three decimal places. A perfect batting average, i.e., a hit every time one comes to bat, is 1.000, hence batting one thousand. In practice, that’s an impossibility for any span of time more than a game or two. The best lifetime batting average is Ty Cobb’s, .366. The last player to bat over .400 for a season was Ted Williams in 1941. A season batting average over .300 is exceptionally good.

Of the list of cricket slang terms, batting average, bat for the other team, and catch out work for baseball as well.

And spin and spin doctor are originally Americanisms, so baseball is the origin, although the metaphor works for cricket too.

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Posted: 30 July 2018 01:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Dave Wilton - 29 July 2018 05:49 PM

I can honestly say that I have never heard of batting one thousand before today, and have not the slightest idea what it might mean.

It baseball, batting average is measured by a percentage with three decimal places. A perfect batting average, i.e., a hit every time one comes to bat, is 1.000, hence batting one thousand.

I can see where the confusion can come in. The number is read as though the decimal point weren’t there.

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Posted: 06 August 2018 01:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Many Britons with no knowledge of baseball use step up to the plate, out of leftield, curveballl, and three strikes and you’re out.

Batting for the other side also means gay though I can’t remember if I encountered this In BE or AE - it could be from either. Swing both ways must have been used for bisexual. Is a switch hitter the same from baseball? I always liked the cricket litotes It’s a bit sticky for dire circumstances.

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Posted: 06 August 2018 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Batting for the other side also means gay though I can’t remember if I encountered this In BE or AE

I first heard it in Britain, but from an American expat who had been living there for a decade.

Swing both ways must have been used for bisexual.

I’ve never heard this one used in baseball, but it’s definitely used in Leftpondia for sexuality.

Is a switch hitter the same from baseball?

Yes, on both counts. It’s used in baseball and for sexuality in American slang.

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