Want to talk like an American? It’s a slam-dunk with these sports phrases.

Michigan State forward Jon Horford slams a dunk. (AP Images)
AP Images

Americans are crazy about sports. So if you want to talk like an American, it’s important to learn some of the sports phrases that have seeped into everyday American speech.

Paul Dickson, author of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, says sports idioms are popular for a couple of reasons. Sports terms allow people from different walks of life to talk to each other. After all, lots of people play and watch sports. It is something almost everyone shares. And sports talk is very colorful.

Below are six common sports expressions that Americans use, along with an explanation of their meanings in both a sports context and everyday conversations. 


The football player in blue and yellow "blindsides" the quarterback in white. (AP Images)
AP Images

In sports: A surprise attack on a player from a side where his or her vision is obstructed.
In conversation: To be greatly surprised by something — e.g., “Since my car only had a small scratch, I was blindsided by the big repair bill.”

Par for the course

Golfer hitting ball in sand trap (AP Images)
AP Images

In sports: The expected score on a golf hole is the par.
In conversation: Anything that is the expected result is par for the course.

Right off the bat

Ike Davis swinging bat (AP Images)
AP Images

In sports: The high speed at which a ball in baseball comes off the bat.
In conversation: Immediately, as in, “I turned on my phone, and right off the bat it started ringing.” 


Alexis Ajinca slam dunks during basketball game (AP Images)
AP Images

In sports: When a basketball player throws the ball through the hoop from directly above the basket.
In conversation: Something that can be done easily is called a slam-dunk. 

Down to the wire

Horses at the Kentucky Derby racing down to the wire (AP Images)
AP Images

In sports: Horses race to a finish-line wire hung above the racetrack.
In conversation: Your race to finish an assignment on time came down to the last second, or down to the wire

Roll with the punches

Muhammad Ali trying to roll with the punches (AP Images)
AP Images

In sports: A boxer avoids a direct hit by making small movements away from the blow.
In conversation: If you don’t let things bother you, that means you roll with the punches. 

Other resources for learning English

The American English resource center and the American English page on Facebook are excellent online resources for learning conversational English. Podcasts and news stories, such as Voice of America’s Learning English, are also great tools for students of different levels.