Source of the expression "give it the old college try"?
January 29, 2005 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Language/idioms/etc: I'm wondering about the source of the expression "give it the old college try". Google offers tons of examples, but nothing concrete.
posted by cmyr to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
googled: "college try" origin phrase.


What is the origin of the phrase, Give it the old college try? -- Jake, Syracuse '07

Milo began his quest at the oldest college in the United States. Harvard was founded in 1636 -- the first "petticoat raid" reportedly occurred a year later. Alas, the Crimson gave Milo's inquiry the old heave-ho. Undaunted, Milo dug into the archives of The New York Times and discovered the first use of the phrase in an Oct. 19, 1919 article written by future Hall of Fame pitcher (and former Bucknell University class prez) Christy Mathewson. Describing the batting stance of future Cooperstown peer Frankie Frisch, then a rookie, Mathewson wrote, "Frisch was taking a long hold on his club and the old college try at the ball."Frisch, by the way, may be the only Hall member whose nickname denotes his alma mater: the Fordham Flash.
posted by Arch Stanton at 12:42 PM on January 29, 2005

Whatever that paragraph means, it seems the phrase dates to at least 1919.
posted by Arch Stanton at 12:42 PM on January 29, 2005

I guess that's as close as I'm going to get, but I'm somehow unconvinced. Thanks for the quick response.
posted by cmyr at 1:08 PM on January 29, 2005

I find the strange quoted use reassuring. All too often a word/phrase origin is explained through a humorous or incidental origin, as though we can't come to grips with the idea that people make new words and phrases everyday out of thin air. They don't have to have a revealing story.

That said, I found a few more tidbits. From
This slangy expression, originally a cheer to urge a team on, dates from the 1930s when college football films were very popular.

Per Arch Stantons post, that's obviously not the origin, but it's not uncommon in word etymology for the popularizer and the originator to become confused. A quick IMDB search shows there were in fact a lot of football movies in the 30s.

You might want to try out the Straight Dope boards if it's really bugging you.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 1:21 PM on January 29, 2005

I've started a Wordorigins thread about it; I suggest you keep checking in there to see if anything further turns up.
posted by languagehat at 1:58 PM on January 29, 2005

Thanks again. This wasn't a serious issue, it's just a term IK found myself using and that got me thinking, which got me asking. So thanks for at least pushing me in the direction of clarity.

and on review, it looks like the first reply in the Wordorigins thread might have it:
By one year at NPA: A newspaper column by that title by Billy Sunday which has a 1917 copyright by The Bell Syndicate Inc. Appears in an Elyria Ohio paper October of 1918.

Actually, the evangelist puts the expression on the lips of the great Giants manager John McGraw who after watching an rookie outfielder just out of college miss a heroic catch which resulted in a homer. While the "sapient birds of the Giants gave the kid the cackle" McGraw is quoted as saying, "That's the eye, young fellow. The old college try."

Edited by: jgorman64 at: 1/29/05 11:25 pm
so thanks, lh.
posted by cmyr at 2:42 PM on January 29, 2005

My pleasure. And that period (start of the last century) was about when college kids started being a visible part of what had been a workingman's game -- Christy Mathewson being the most famous example -- so it makes sense that the "college try" would have entered baseball jargon around then.
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on January 29, 2005

that is actually more interesting then either posts; it wasn't something I'd considered, and it makes perfect sense of the phrase. Thanks again for the help, I can sleep once more.
posted by cmyr at 5:54 PM on January 29, 2005

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