From Block to Bunt.

Richard Hershberger, who comments here from time to time, has a Facebook series “150 years ago today in baseball” which is essential reading for anyone interested in the early game (and I look forward to the book that will surely come out of it); this post is of particular linguistic interest:

150 years ago today in baseball: Hartford is in Philadelphia, where the Fillies beat them 6-4. Here Tommy Barlow, the Hartfords’ shortstop, gets on base by “blocking” the ball. This is a term from cricket, where a block is a defensive stroke intended to defend the stumps, deadening the ball while putting it on the ground (keeping in mind that in cricket the batsman is not required to run on a ground ball). In other words, Barlow put down a bunt. The bat angle is different than a cricket block, but the analogy is clear.

Oodles of baseball vocabulary comes from cricket, so this fits right in. Except, of course, that it didn’t stick. We will see the appearance of “bunt” in about two months, coming out of Chicago. That “bunt” will be the word that sticks is an interesting example of the rising influence of the West (meaning the Midwest) on baseball culture. Stay tuned.

Bunt is, of course, the more expressive and therefore the better verb, so hurray for Chicago.


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    But I take it we now need to wait approx two months for the 150th anniversary of the first attestation of “bunt” for more etymological detail on that?

  2. cuchuflete says

    For the impatient, there is

    “ bunt (v.)
    1825, “to strike with the head or horns” (of a goat or calf); perhaps an alteration of butt (v.) with a goat in mind, or a survival from Middle English bounten “to leap back, return” (early 15c., perhaps from a variant of Old French bondir; see bound (v.2)). As a baseball term from 1889. Also compare punt (v.). Related: Bunted; bunting.
    also from 1825
    bunt (n.)
    1767, “a push with the head or horns” (of a goat or calf); see bunt (v.). Baseball sense “stop the ball with the bat without swinging the bat” is from 1889.”

  3. As a baseball term from 1889.

    We’re evidently going to learn that it’s from 1874. But yes, we have to wait. Learn patience, my son!

  4. Rodger C says

    I was also interested in the spelling “Fillies” for Phillies, from the days when horses were a common topic of conversation. Was this a misspelling 150 years ago, or did the usual spelling change later?

  5. They didn’t have fixed team names back then — sometimes a reporter would use three different nicknames for the same team in a single story — and “Fillies” was the usual spelling, exactly because the horse word was common and it was a clever sort-of-pun on the city name. The modern spelling gets rid of the pun and is much less fun.

  6. Richard Hershberger says

    Y’all have largely covered it. I lean to “bunt” being a variant of “butt.” There is a claim that the word was used in railroads, meaning to give a car a nudge. This seems plausible, but I have not found any supporting evidence. (By way of contrast, “double header” unquestionably comes from railroading.)

  7. On the chance that our baseball historian or others can add (or subtract) from what I sent to american dialect society list today:

    We have discussed this before; here I (again) pitch baseball as perhaps relevant.

    1895, April 6. The Washington Post critiqued a pitcher, John S. Malarkey (1872-1949) as “erratic and flighty,” having “a $10,000 arm and a ten cent noodle.”;!!OToaGQ!p0_yNRtt8XjClKemFzdVhU5fMUyOTX5lMgbkRx5S6_ckvEq_drGJVJA2Fo–I5i3EouE9C7p3apu87TFDCI$

    1896. For a winning season he got nicknamed “King Mull,” perhaps relevant for Irish pronunciation. Cf. William Sayers, Malarkey and Its Etymology, Western Folklore (2000) 209-12.

    1904, May 19. Reporter O’Laughlin began an article with “Too much Malarkey.” And called him “Old ‘King Mull” after a win for Columbus, Ohio. Malarkey was an Ohio native. Minneapolis Journal 14/3. LC newspapers.

    1908. John Malarkey left baseball and went to work for the Erie Railroad.

    1909, June 12. Another pitcher: Malarkey, Bill Malarkey (1878-1956). Buffalo News 6/1-2. “Too Much Malarkey.” Caps and quotes in the original. (His baseball card is reportedly highly-regarded by collectors.)

    1914, July 17. “It was simply too much Malarkey.” Again, baseball pitching. San Bernadino County Sun 3/2.

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