Still reading Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child (see this post), I’ve just hit a passage with a word I cannot identify:

Just beyond the whited boundary lay the slipcatch, mown all around, but little used, tall grass growing up through its silvery slats. Peter liked the shape of it, like some archaic boat, and sometimes on evening walks by himself he lay down in it and blew cigarette-smoke at the midges overhead. … Paul had found a cricket ball in the long grass, and stepping back a few yards he threw it swerving through the dip of the slipcatch and up into the air, where no one of course was waiting to receive it—it bounced once and ran off quickly towards the old parked roller, leaving Paul looking both smug and abashed.

It would seem to be a cricket term, and the OED indeed has an entry for “slip-catch”—but there it clearly means a way of catching a ball rather than a piece of terrain (1903 S. L. Jessop in H. G. Hutchinson Cricket v. 119 “This range [of hits for practising catches] will include different kinds of chances, from ‘slip’ catches to catches in the long field”). The very few other Google Books hits seem to have entirely different meanings (“On Bob’s belt was a set of keys hanging from a belt loop by one of those slipcatch hooks with a ring on it”; “he drew back the slipcatch of the garden door and opened it”; “By means of a slipcatch it holds the line firmly”; etc.). Anybody know what it means here? Is it simply a slip on the author’s part?


  1. Gary McClellan says

    It is a cricket term. Seems to function like a backstop in baseball. Pictures here:

  2. I think he’s referring to a device used to practice slip catching. It’s like a half-barrel on its side. You throw the ball into it and it comes out at an unpredictable angle for someone to catch at the other side. I’d call it a slip cradle.

  3. A bit of a clearer picture here:
    You can see that it does look a bit like a boat. The word ‘slip’ refers to a fielding position in cricket that requires very fast reflexes.

  4. Ah, many thanks—that’s clearly exactly what it is! Here‘s a direct link to Matt’s picture.

  5. Just a clarification about the slip in cricket – it’s not one position. First second and third slip are common in Test cricket, but this photo shows the maximum possible nine slips.

  6. There’s a (not very high quality) video of one in use here.

  7. The OED quotes John Nyren’s Young Cricketer’s Tutor of 1843 to suggest that the word for the fielding position comes from the idea that the fielder is there to catch the ball after a “slip” by the batsman, who will sometimes “edge” the ball with his bat, causing it to fly off at an angle, rather than centering it and driving it in the direction he was aiming, particularly if the bowler has used “spin” to cause the ball to bounce in an unexpected direction after it lands in front of the batsman: “The long stop … is required to cover many slips from the bat, both to the leg and the off-side.”

  8. I see commenting has been turned off on the Dr Who entry (too much spam?) so I’ll take the opportunity here instead to say to Dearieme that I, at least, got the reference to Philip Madoc and the submarine captain, and ask him if he heard the story on a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s Now Show about the man in the queue at a British Starbucks who was asked by a barista for his name (to write on his coffee cup), whereupon someone at the back of the queue shouted: “Don’t tell him, Pike!”

  9. Is The Now Show any good? I see it alternates every six weeks with The News Quiz in my part of the world. I listened once, but didn’t get it.

  10. I see commenting has been turned off on the Dr Who entry (too much spam?)
    Yes, sadly (I thought I’d left a comment to that effect at the end of the thread, but evidently not).

  11. I had understood that you only turn commenting off because of too much spam.

  12. And I thought my lame Chomsky joke had killed off that thread…

  13. I had understood that you only turn commenting off because of too much spam.
    Ganz korrekt.

  14. zythophile, I hadn’t heard that one. I may say that I did see Madoc as the Welsh ‘tec and thought he did it very well. Fine voice, watchable face, good actor.

  15. Nowdays, of course, the things are made of plastic with raised ribbing instead of slats. Grumble grumble.

  16. “Is The Now Show any good?”
    Well, I like it, AJP, it can be genuinely LOL funny in its satire, though you perhaps have to be pretty up-to-date with what had been going on in Britain in the previous five to seven days to understand all the jokes.

  17. Maybe that was my problem. I usually enjoy that kind of thing.

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