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September 19, 2015

Throw a Curveball - Sports Idioms in American Offices

"That was a total curveball! What do we do now?" 

"Go through your presentation with a fine tooth comb. This client is known for throwing curveballs." 

"I expected to ace the performance review, but some curveballs were thrown at me." 

So, what does curveball mean in these sentences? Can you make out from the limited context of the sentences? 

Though you don't need to know the technicalities of what a curveball is, or even what the game of baseball entails, I will explain it in brief. Curveballs happen in the game of baseball when the pitcher throws a pitch that doesn't travel in a straight line. When this happens, the batter is off-guard or taken by surprise. When we get curveballs, we can become confused, overwhelemed, frustrated, or stessed out. How do you perform when a curveball is thrown at you?

The video below gives a good context to the meaning of curveball from the world of sports. Scroll below the video to learn the meanings of the sentences that opened this article.

What is the meaning of curveball used in these sample sentences?
Keeping in mind that people use the term curveball as an idiom whether or not they know or like baseball, let's get the everyday English version of the sentences that started this article.

"That was a total curveball! What do we do now?" 
Possible context: A team was given a task to do or feedback from their client that was totally unexpected.
What is this person saying? "That was a total surprise. What do we do now?"

"Do your homework. Go through your presentation with a fine tooth comb. This client is known for throwing curveballs." 
Possible context: The offshore team is getting ready to do a demo with a client who is known for interacting in unexpected ways. The manager wants the team member to over prepare, think of things from many angles, and to be ready for anything during the demo.
Tricky element: There are three idioms in this communication: do your homework, go through it with a fine tooth comb and curveball. Let's see what they both mean.
What is this person saying? "Do all your research on the client, the client requirement, end user needs and technical aspects. Review your presentation very carefully from many angles. Make sure there are no mistakes. Make sure there is nothing left out. Be prepared from many angles. This client is known from surprising service providers with tricky questions or tricky scenerios to answer."

"I expected to ace the performance review, but some curveballs were thrown at me."
Possible context: After the annual performance review, the coworker is feeling shocked at the outcome as something was said or done during the meeting that he or she did not expect to happen.
Tricky element: There are two idioms here: ace and curveball.
What is this person saying? "I expected to exceed the manager's expectations and the team expectations at the performance review. I thought I met all the year's goals and was looking forward to positive feedback. However, there were some surprises that happened during the meeting. I got some feedback I did not expect. Now I am not sure of the outcome, or the outcome has not matched my expectations."

What other sports idioms have you heard your American counterparts use during meetings and work-related project discussions? Understanding the entire meaning and feeling can be tricky at times. The more exposure you have to these idioms, and trying to use them yourself if possible can improve your confidence and add some personality to your English with your onsite team members.

Jennifer Kumar is a corporate cross-cultural trainer providing engaging cross-cultural awareness and busienss engagement sessions for offshore teams, onsite assignees and international, distributed and virtual teams. Check out our programs, or contact us for your tailored solution today.

Related Posts:
What is baseball? Learn all about baseball.  
Sports idioms used in corporate discussions
Small Talk Interactive Workshop 
Down to the Wire - Sports Idioms Sample Sentences & Meaning  

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.