The Ball Is in Your Court (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "The Ball Is in Your Court"?

The term "the ball is in your court" means it is your turn to act next.
The Ball Is in Your Court (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • We've given you the training. The ball is now in your court.
  • (This saying is often used with the word "now" to emphasize that the initiative to act has shifted.)
  • He needs to apologize to save his job. The ball is in his court.
  • (Of course, "the ball" can be in anyone's "court.")
  • I've replied to her email. The ball is now in Sarah's court.
This idiom originates from the sport of tennis. Once the tennis ball has been hit over the net, the onus to act (i.e., play the next shot) switches to the person whose half of the court contains the ball. The word "ball" is therefore a metaphor for the need to act.

A quick look at Google's Ngram Viewer (which scans millions of published articles over the past two centuries) shows that the term was used, albeit rarely, in the early 19th century but did not become popular until around 1970.

Here is a modern, real-life example of use:
  • God has already done everything He's going to do. The ball is now in your court. If you want success, if you want wisdom, if you want to be prosperous and healthy, you're going to have to do more than meditate and believe; you must boldly declare words of faith and victory over yourself and your family. (US televangelist Joel Osteen)

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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