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Today's Word



May 15, 2023
This week’s theme
Words from ball games

This week’s words
Hail Mary
jump ball

hail mary
“Hail, Mary.”

Previous week’s theme
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with Anu Garg

Sports are more like a religion than one may realize. Each involves rituals and traditions. We worship our teams and players. We fight over whose team is better. We gather in large groups to attend the events. We chant, which supposedly makes the players do as we wish them to do. Also, each has its dress code, whether a lucky jersey or a special cap.

So it’s fitting that today’s term combines both sports and religion. I don’t follow any religion on the field or in the clouds, being asporteist and atheist, but I’d go to any stadium or church in search of words.

This week we’ll feature words from the world of ball games -- American football, bowling, baseball, snooker, and basketball -- that are often used metaphorically.

Let’s begin the service and get the ball rolling.

What are your feelings about sports? Are you an asporteist? What’s your favorite team? Who’s your favorite player (mine is Roger Federer though I don’t even follow tennis). Share below or email us at words@wordsmith.org.

Hail Mary


noun: A last-ditch attempt, made in desperation, having little chance of success, but potentially resulting in a big payoff.

From Hail Mary, translation of Latin Ave Maria, the first two words of a prayer. Earliest documented use: 1930s.

What is a Hail Mary? It is, literally, greetings from the angel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth to Mary, mother of Jesus. These (or the Latin Ave Maria) are the first two words of a prayer in the Roman Catholic Church.

The term is used in American football for a long forward pass or other desperate play attempted by a losing team in a last-ditch attempt at the end of a game. The term is also used metaphorically in non-sports contexts.

Sometimes even the Pope has to throw a Hail Mary:

“That leaves a pope eager to help on behalf of all humanity with few options except to keep hanging around in front of Russia’s door and to continue making symbolic gestures. Francis has decided it’s time to make a Hail Mary pass ... He’s announced that he intends to consecrate Russia and Ukraine.”
Robert Mickens; The Pope’s “Hail Mary” Pass; La Croix International (Montrouge, France); Mar 19, 2022.

It’s not clear why an all-knowing, all-powerful, beneficent God wouldn’t do the right thing in the first place, instead of waiting for people to pray. It’s even more unclear why he wouldn’t do the right thing even after hearing heartfelt prayers for a just cause.

“He saw a crack, a slight opening, a way to pull off a Hail Mary.”
Vince Flynn; Transfer of Power; Pocket Books; 2008.

See more usage examples of Hail Mary in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

I feel fairly certain that my hatred harms me more than the people whom I hate. -Max Frisch, architect, playwright, and novelist (15 May 1911-1991)

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