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A Brand-New 'Eephus' Fable

Rob Kyff on

"Why do we say something is 'brand-new'?" asks Simon Kravetz of Canton, Connecticut.

Now there's a burning question!

"Brand," derived from a Germanic root that means burn, originally referred to a burning stick or torch. Medieval artisans used intense heat to shape ceramic or metal objects, and when they pulled their creations from the fire, they were "brand-new," that is, still burning like a brand.

It's this fiery sense of "brand" that survives in "brand-new." Today we still use this term to refer to anything that's as fresh as newly forged metal.

Similarly, the term "brand," meaning a company's distinct trademark or an individual's public image or identity, derives from the hot brand that was used on casks and kegs to identify the maker of their contents.

A brand-new baseball season is beginning, and a devoted Yankees fan recently asked me about the origin of the old term "eephus pitch."

As Paul Dickson explains in his authoritative Dickson Baseball Dictionary, an eephus is a high-arcing pitch thrown overhand and aimed upward so it will drop from the top to the bottom of the strike zone as it crosses the plate.

Other names for this type of batter-baffler include blooper ball, gondola, parachute, balloon ball and La Lob, but "eephus" seems to be reserved for pitches with the most bizarre trajectories.

 

According to Dickson, the first pitch to be dubbed "eephus" was thrown by Pittsburgh Pirates hurler Truett "Rip" Sewell during a 1942 exhibition game with the Detroit Tigers in Muncie, Indiana.

With the count at 3-2, Sewell threw an eephus to batter Dan Wakefield who swung so hard at the tantalizer that he nearly fell down when he missed.

After the game, when Pirates manager Frankie Frisch asked what the pitch was called, outfielder Maurice Van Robays piped up, "That's an eephus ball." Asked to explain, Van Robays said, "Eephus ain't nuthin'."

The baseball "eephus" may derive from "ephus," "e-phus" or "ephus ophus," an early-20th century slang term for dependable information, the straight story. (After all, the truth ain't nuthin'.) So, oddly enough, a baseball term for a high floater might come from a term for the lowdown.

But in my efforts to determine whether "eephus pitch" was meant ironically (an eephus pitch is hardly straight, after all), or whether the term referred to the hard fact that the eephus is difficult to hit, I -- like most batters who encounter the elusive eephus -- have swung and missed.

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Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Amazon.com. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to WordGuy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.


Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.

 

 

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