How ‘Upset’ting: Term May Not Originate From Horse Racing After All

by | 07.06.2013 | 11:36am
Man o' War

As favorites falter on the racetrack and at last week's Wimbledon tennis matches, linguists pondered the origin of the term “upset,” according to a report by Wyoming Public Radio.

Although it's generally accepted that the term came from the horse named Upset who defeated Man o'War in 1919, Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer asserts that the usage of the word is older than that famous race.

Zimmer found evidence that an “upset” occurred in a horse race in 1857, and speculated that the term might have been adapted from a reference to an overturned boat.

These days though, it seems to Zimmer that the slightest bobble at an event can be termed an “upset.”

“I think sports writers might still be guilty of overusing that term,” said Zimmer, who found a column about the word's overuse dated 1928. “although in a case like Wimbledon this year it's certainly justified.”

Read more at Wyoming Public Media

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