Terms to Avoid – Anachronisms and Myths
What is an “anachronism”? “Anachronism” literally means “against time”. It is something that is out of place in time. An example may be a car or slang language from the 1980s appearing in a movie set in the 1960s. For those interpreting late 1850s -1860s vintage base ball (vbb), it can be a term, rule or practice, etc., that was used in some earlier form of base ball that was out of use by the late 1850s -1860s. It can also be a term, rule or practice, etc., taken from the later professional era or even from modern baseball or softball and inappropriately applied to the game of the late 1850s - 1860s. Frequently, a word existed in the period vocabulary, but wasn’t used in the manner that it has come to be presented in vbb.
Myths can be problematic because frequently (but not always), there is some element of truth to them. The granddaddy of base ball myths is that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in 1839. Some very notable people “claimed” that he did and produced “evidence” to that effect. As knowledgeable folks clarified that it is a myth that Doubleday invented baseball, the Cartwright story grew in its place. We have now dispelled the myth that Alexander Cartwright wrote the first rules for base ball for the New York Knickerbockers in the 1840’s. But Cartwright did play for the Knickerbockers and even has a plaque in Cooperstown. We now know that the inscription on the plaque is entirely fictional.
Some terms that were used in late 1850s -1860s base ball were also used in cricket as well as other coexisting forms of base ball, such as the Massachusetts game and town ball. Additionally, many terms that were used in earlier or later eras of base ball were also used in the late 1850s - 1860s. Of course, all of these other games also had terms that were not used in late 1850s -1860s base ball, yet many of them have found their way into use by vintage base ball players. Finally, several of the terms used in vintage base ball were created by modern vbb players, and were not part of that era at all.
The bold terms below are all anachronistic for base ball in the late 1850s -1860s, or are myths that were created many decades later.
Commonly Misused Terms
- Arbiter: Anachronism used to refer to umpire. Arbiter was a synonym for referee. Prior to 1858, three men officiated at interclub matches. Two of these (known as umpires) were members of the respective clubs (one from each). The third (the referee) was impartial, and overruled any disagreements between the umpires. Referees disappeared from the game in 1858 when the rules were changed to one umpire officiating the game. Arbiter was never a common term in post-1858 New York rules base ball.
- Arbitrator: Anachronism. Arbitrator is a 20th century slang term for umpire. Throughout the rules, and in box scores and news stories, the common term is umpire.
- Behind: There is a common myth that the catcher was called the behind. The 1860 book Beadle’s Base Ball Player, the first recognized guide for base ball, uses only the term catcher to describe the man that receives the ball from the pitcher. Behind is not once used to describe the man catching. So where did it come from? Some 1850s newspapers contained game reports of early forms of base ball before the 1857 convention, which first regulated the game among New York clubs. These early box score-like reports used some terms borrowed from cricket, As an example, the pitcher was sometimes listed under the heading bowler (from cricket), and at other times listed as the pitcher. The catcher will be seen as the catcher in some and others will have a heading of who played behind. The term behind the bat is an obsolete term for the wicket keeper in cricket. Even in cricket, behind was not the title of the man, but was the area of ground he was responsible for. He could be called the behind man. Behind is akin to a hockey goalie playing “net” – while you might say that the goalie played net, you would not say that the goalie was “the net”, and similarly the catcher might play behind, but was not “the behind”. Through the 1860s we can still find behind used to describe area behind the home base that is being covered by the catcher, but not the catcher himself.
- Cranks: It is an anachronism that mid-19th century base ball spectators were called cranks. In the early 1880s, crank first came into use to describe someone that was obsessed or a madman. Base ball first began using the term to describe the base ball obsessed in the mid- to late-1880s. Even when it was in popular use, it did not refer to the casual spectator, but only the fervent follower. The most commonly used term for those attending base ball games in the 1860s was spectator. It’s important to remember that by the 1880s, those observing games were expected to cheer for their favorite teams, but in the late 1850s -1860s, spectators were expected to cheer good play by both clubs. The most common terms used in the period were spectators or audience, and occasionally you might read about followers. If there were a large group, it might be referred to as a throng.
- Dead: Vintage base ball players often use the term dead instead of out. Dead was apparently used in early forms of the game where a runner would be put out by being plugged or soaked with the thrown ball. The common term was “out” (though see “Hands Lost” in the “Documented Terms” document). Death and dying on the bases still found infrequent use for color in sportswriter’s accounts in early base ball throughout the 19th century. Knowledgeable umpires would have been very unlikely to have used those terms after the first convention in 1857. The common term was out.
- Foul Tick: It is myth that all foul balls were called a foul tick and not a foul ball. A ball straight back from the bat was called a foul tip. All others were foul balls.
- Hurler, Bowler, Feeder: It is an anachronism that the pitcher was called the hurler before the early 1900s. Hurl is a synonym for throw, and a throw from the pitcher is a baulk. The rule states “the ball must be pitched, not jerked or thrown”. The commonly used term in the late 1850s and after is pitcher. In 1884 the rules first allowed full overhand pitching, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that hurler became occasional slang for the pitcher (or that hurl became occasional slang for pitch). Bowler and Feeder are anachronisms borrowed from other early bat and ball games.
- Huzzah: See “A note on Cheering”, below.
- Scouts, Short-Scout, Rover, Midfielder, Base-tenders: Anachronisms borrowed by modern vintage base ball players from other early bat and ball games. The commonly used terms were fielder (left, center, right), shortstop (occasionally referred to as the short fielder), and baseman (first, second, third). Ballist and Base-ballist are period slang term for a base ball player.
- Striker To The Line: Myth of unknown origin. We can document that the umpire did call To Bat. (See To Bat in “Documented Terms”.)
- Tallykeeper: Anachronism from some archaic forms of base ball. The commonly used term is scorer. (See Run and Scorer in “Documented Terms.”)
Additional Misused Terms
- Apple, Pill, Onion, Horsehide: Anachronisms. In the 19th Century the ball was typically called a ball. These slang terms were first used around the early 20th century.
- Bag: Anachronism referring to a base. This slang term emerged after 1870.
- Banjo Hit, Blooper: Anachronisms referring to a weak fly ball. These are 20th century slang terms. A period equivalent would be short fly or to hit to the short field. Short fly can refer to either an infield pop-up or a fly hit to the shallow outfield
- Battery: An anachronism when used to refer to the pitcher and catcher together. In the mid-19th century, this term was used to refer to the arsenal of the pitcher’s pitches (e.g., “Smith has a substantial battery”), or as slang for the pitcher himself. Only later did battery come to refer to the pitcher and catcher as a group.
- Bench: Reference to the bench begins in the 1880s. Although an abnormality for most clubs, a few major clubs on established grounds may have had benches for players in the late 1860s. However, in most venues players sat on the grass or on a blanket. The term bench is not seen used as a slang reference to a manager or coach or to substitute players until the early 20th century.
- Boodler: Myth of unknown origin, referring to an ungentlemanly maneuver.
- Bugs: Anachronism referring to fans. This is a 20th century slang term. When referring to those people witnessing a game of base ball, the most common terms used in the period were spectators or audience, and occasionally you might read about followers. If there were a large group, it might be referred to as a Throng. Fans and Bugs are anachronisms from much later in baseball’s history. Cranks is an anachronism for our era of base ball, as it emerged only in the 1880’s professional era, and even then it didn’t refer to attendees at a game, but rather to the rabid follower of the game.
- Bug Bruiser: Anachronism referring to a sharply hit grounder. This slang term emerged after 1870.
- Dish: Anachronism referring to the home base. This slang term emerged after 1870.
- Duff: Anachronism referring to an error. This slang term emerged after 1870.
- Fair-Foul Hit: A tactic that became popular in the first professional association (i.e., after 1869) of intentionally driving the ball to strike the ground fair yet pass to the outside of the corner bases. These hits were usually fielded by outfielders, indicating that they were not the “chop bunts” often seen in contemporary vintage base ball.
- Four Baser: Anachronism referring to a home run. This slang term emerged after 1870.
- Garden: Anachronism referring to the outfield. This slang term emerged after 1870.
- Ginger: An anachronism intended to mean that a player showed grit. This term was first used around the 1890s. Terms commonly used in the late 1850s -1860s include sand or pluck.
- Home Point: Myth of unknown origin referring to the home base.
- Hook: Myth of unknown origin referring to a left handed striker. This is a 20th century term for a curve ball.
- Huzzah: See “Some notes on Communication”, below.
- League: In reference to base ball; League came into widespread use only in the late 1870s, with the creation of the National League in 1876.
- Leg it, Stir your stumps: Myths of unknown origin, meaning to run hard.
- Manager: Term came to use in the 1870s. Period clubs had captains.
- Mascot: Anachronism referring to what today would be called a bat boy. This is a slang term from the 1880s. Base ball clubs in the late-1850s-1860s did not typically have bat boys or mascots.
- Muckle: Myth of unknown origin, referring to a power hitter.
- Rooters: Anachronism referring to fans. This is a slang term from the 1880s. When referring to those people witnessing a game of base ball, the most common terms used in the period were spectators or audience, and occasionally you might read about followers. If there were a large group, it might be referred to as a throng. Fans and Bugs are anachronisms from much later in baseball’s history. Cranks is an anachronism for our era of base ball, as it emerged only in the 1880s professional era, and even then it didn’t refer to attendees at a game, but rather to the rabid follower of the game
- Safe: Anachronism not yet commonly used for calls on the bases. Was not used as a declaration by the umpire that a runner is entitled to the base for which he was trying. When the umpire was appealed to for him to make a decision on a close play, he would declare the runner Out or Not Out. When not out, the runner could be said to have been Given In. The term safe was not commonly used as the opposite of out until later. The term Safe Hit did see some use.
- Tag: Not a period term. Runner would be touched with the ball.
- Wrong Hander: Myth of unknown origin. The common term is left- hander.
“Hurrah” was the common cheer of mid-19th century base ball. A well-documented American cheer of the 19th century was three “Hip, Hip, Hurrahs”. This cheer, for emphasis, was sometimes followed by a “tiger”. This was an ‘additional cheer with greater emphasis’; or “one more” (often the word “tiger”) or a “growl, screech or howl” (1842).
Huzzah was an archaic English cheer that was displaced among Americans by the mid-19th century by Hurrah. “Huzzah” is the foreign word from which the American cheer of “hurrah” (or hoora) was derived. Webster’s 1828 dictionary of the American language has this entry:
Huzz’a, n. A shout of joy; a foreign word used in writing only, and most preposterously, as it is never used in practice. The word used is our native word hoora, or hooraw.
A dictionary published in London in 1836 writes:
Huzza is the word shouted; to huzza is to shout the word huzza. Hurrah (pronounced hoo-ra) is in similar usage.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1858 the entry became:
Huzza, huz-za’, n. A shout of joy; a foreign word used in writing only.
So, “huzza” is even foreign in Great Britain.
In summary; To Americans; Huzza is a noun and means “a cheer”. “Hurrah” is an exclamation and is what you cheer. A visiting English cricketer may cheer ‘huzzah’ but not an American patriot. To us, cheering; “hip, hip, huzza” is akin to cheering “hip, hip, a cheer”.
Modern chatter: “The play’s at two” (generally referring to base as “one”, “two”, or “three” is a modernization), “My bad”, “You’re up” (calling to a runner coming home that there is no throw and he needn’t slide), “I go” (I’ve got it), “Eat It” (don’t throw), “Cut off”, “Let’s Turn Two”.
Club names: According to Peter Morris in Game of Inches,
“Until the 1870s, club names almost always took the following form: the Atlantic Base Ball Club of Brooklyn. Because of the length, the name was often abbreviated to the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn, or the Atlantics of Brooklyn. The modern Formulation of “the Brooklyn Atlantics” only began to become common in the 1880’s...”
In short, club name before location is appropriate to the period we portray. Location before club name (i.e., the modern style) is a later innovation.
Nicknames: Nicknames became associated with baseball in the professional era, courtesy of sportswriters eager to generate interest in the games (and thus sales of papers), and didn’t really get rolling until the 1880s. A Rochester, NY paper noted as early as 1876 that all the players on the amateur Rochesters club had nicknames, which were used almost exclusively in place of their given name. It is unclear if this was common to the region, or was specific to the Rochesters club. The idea that “All 1860s players had nicknames” is a modern invention, although some men had nicknames then just as now. A man or player would not refer to himself by nickname, and nicknames or familiar names were rarely used in mixed company. Nicknames did not appear on score sheets.