American Football Idioms

It’s Super Bowl Sunday in North America – an unofficial holiday that only grows in importance from year to year. As I get ready to watch this year’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens (it won’t start until after midnight over here in Europe!), I’m reminded of the importance of sports idioms in language.

When we are fluent in a language, we often mix in idioms to enrich our langauge without realizing it. A businessman from New York may simply state this his coworker really fumbled the ball on that project without realizing that most international speakers of English are unaware of what fumbling in American football means.

When we are speaking to an international group of listeners, it is advisable to avoid idioms that are related to sports the group may not know. You may not feel that you are giving the same picture or impression to your listeners by avoiding these wonderful idiomatic expressions… but at least everyone will understand what you are talking about!

English speakers: Be aware of sports idioms and avoid them when necessary.

English learners: Learn as many sports idioms as you feel you can handle. You don’t need to add them into your spoken language – but understanding what they mean can help you with those native speakers. Of course… the more you know about the sports in your contact person’s country, the easier these expressions will become to remember.

A few idioms common to American football:

  • to blitz
  • to carry the ball
  • to cheap shot somebody
  • to drop back
  • to drop the ball
  • to drop back and punt
  • to fumble something
  • to hand off something
  • to hold the line
  • to huddle
  • to kick off
  • to Monday morning quarterback
  • to quarterback
  • to score a touchdown
  • to tackle a problem
  • to take the ball and run
  • to throw a Hail Mary

Do you know what these all mean? How often do use them… or hear them?

For more on cultural references, look here.


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