Jargon Genesis: Pinch Hitter

As a follow-up to last week's three-post-series on the business of baseball, we thought we would share the beginnings of some business lingo that came from baseball.

“If I can’t make it to the conference, will you be my pinch hitter and present to the board?”

What an interesting phrase – to “pinch hit!” For me, it conjures images of a childhood fight where one is resorting to the most desperate means that little hands are capable of – pinching and hitting. Add biting to the mix, and the childhood trio of violence would be complete.

But I digress. The word pinch is used in myriad colloquial phrases, such as “in a pinch,” “pinch pennies,” “feel the pinch,” and of course, “pinch hitter/runner.” Since pinch is the common denominator in all these phrases, let’s start there.

In old French, the word “pincier” is the distant relative of the infinitive “to pinch,” meaning to squeeze, usually with fingers, in a manner causing discomfort or pain. But since the 14th century, when the verb came into play in print, there have been many figurative uses of the term.

Generally speaking, the figurative definition expresses a situation of severe pressure or hardship that “pinches” a person.

So in baseball, when the situation is critical, they call upon another person to “pinch hit” and try to save the game. This reference can be found in print as early as 1902. As we celebrate the kickoff of baseball season, I wish you all the best as you are called upon to pinch hit, whether figuratively or literally. Batter up!