Chickens say “balk” 


This came up at a recent ballgame: does the word “balk” come from baseball?

The answer is “no,” but it’s an interesting no. In baseball, a balk is an illegal motion by the pitcher, and results in all runners advancing one base. It’s a famously hard to understand rule. If it ends the game (i.e., if the home team has a runner on third in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth), it’s a “walk off balk,” or “balk-off.” That is very rare.

But the word does not from baseball. It enters English from the Old Norse “balkr,” (or is at least a cognate of balkr) and originally was a noun meaning an unplowed ridge (like a ridge between two plowed lines, sometimes as a border). It then came to mean a ridge that had been left unplowed by mistake, before evolving meaning a mistake or blunder generally.

But look at the frequency of its use in English.


There is general decline in its usage until around 1880, or around the time that organized baseball really got going. I can’t say if it was a word that bounced back into common usage and got picked up by baseball, or if baseball accounts for its renewed use, but the timing works out. There are some other oddities in the earlier frequency of the word, but I can’t explain those at all.


One thought on “Chickens say “balk” 

  1. Pingback: Walk-Off Balk! | NoTrueScotsman

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