Tag Archives: sports

Cleaning Clocks on the Rails & Taking a Punch in the Face

Cleaning someone’s clock is an expression mainly used by sportswriters, when they’re referring to an huge defeat. The phrase can also be used to describe someone being punched in the face. In any sense of its use, the implications are the same. The clock is the sufferer of some sort of defeat, while the guy with the rag & the Windex is the winner.


Fenway Park during the 1914 World Series. During game 1, The Boston Braves would clean Philadelphia Athletics’ clocks, 7-1. (Image in public domain)

On written record,”cleaning someone’s clock,” is still a baby. It was first published in its entirety in 1959, but this is just its written history. As I’ve said before, written traditions are way younger than oral ones, so this one most likely goes back a bit more. Without further delay, let’s look into the few ways the phrase may have come to be.

The first is extremely easy. It’s such a simple idea, that it fits in two lines. It’s this:

The word “clock,” when used as a verb sometimes means to hit. The phrase we know may be nothing more than a simple variation of that meaning.

The second meaning comes from the days of steam locomotives.

Pressure gauges on the engine were called clocks because of their slight resemblance to the timepieces. They were circular & had needles, which looked like the hands of a clock. These needles indicated how much steam pressure was in the different systems of the engine. “Cleaning someone’s clock” is a reference to the brake gauge. This is because when an engineer needed to execute an emergency stop, he would pull a lever, emptying the steam out of the breaking system. The needle on the “clock” would then indicate that the steam pressure was at zero. Zeroing the needle was also called cleaning. It’s easy to draw the connection from this use of the phrase, to sportswriters’ usage: When you clean the clocks on a train, it comes to a complete stop. Likewise, when you clean the clocks of a sports team, the scoring momentum comes to a complete stop & they have no chance of winning.


A Pressure gauge, or clock.                     (Image in public domain)

The third is a simple combination of two different slang terms.

Londoners who speak English with a Cockney accent use the word “clock” as a nickname for a person’s face. On the website, The Phrase Finder user, The Fallen confirms this in a post, where he claims that it comes from the fact that we refer to the part of the clock with the numbers & hands as the face. He remains at a loss as to why cleaning one of these clock faces has come to be a reference to a punch.

Let’s examine the verb “to clean,” as a slang word. According to the website, The Word Detective, it’s quite easy. On this side of the pond, it has been linked synonymously with the verb, to defeat. Most sources date it to the early Nineteenth Century.

Take clean, when used in the above context & put it next to the word clock, meaning face, & you have an expression which means “to defeat someone’s face.” I’d say punching someone in the face would definitely defeat it.

Out of all three options, I would have to pick the last two. There isn’t much to the first one, but then again simplicity might be the key, as it has been before. At any rate, I have always liked this expression & it’s cool to know where it may have come from.

Have a good week & I’ll see you next Monday.

For now, though, now you know; you’re welcome.


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Hat Tricks: Bowling for Wickets

Good afternoon, Bologna Followers. Are you ready for this weeks edition?

Too bad if you aren’t because here we go.

This one’s for all the sports fans out there & explains one of the most common terms used in the world of sports:

Hat trick.

I’m sure quite a few of you know that the term is used in many sports (water polo, soccer & hockey, to name a few), but what you might not know is that it actually originates in the English game of  Cricket.

Cricket consists of two teams, which are made up of eleven members. Similarly to baseball, one team takes the field, while the other bats.  The bowler attempts to throw the ball past the batsman & hit a wicket, which is positioned directly behind the batsman. If the batsman hits the ball, he gets to run back & forth between wickets, racking up runs. Conversely, if the bowler hits the wicket, the batsman is dismissed (that’s cricket speak for out).

In 1858, a player by the name of H. H. Stephenson was in his prime. He was a bowler, who, according to Wikipedia bowled, “right-arm fast roundarm.” I have no idea what that means aside from the fact that he threw the ball fast. If a cricket lover out there could enlighten me as to what this means, that would be great.

Anyway, one day, while his team was playing the twenty two of Hallam (because apparently nobody cared if teams there wasn’t an equal number of players on each team back then), Stephenson dismissed three batsmen in a row by hitting the wickets. That’s three wickets in three balls. That’s comparable to a pitcher in baseball completing an inning by striking out the side with nine swing & miss pitches. It’s a pretty impressive.

The tradition back then was to reward outstanding athleticism by holding monetary collections for gifts, regardless of team affiliation. Both teams pitched in & in this case, they raised enough money to buy Stephenson a hat.

Stephenson went on to have a very fulfilling career, going on to play globally, while posting a bunch of outstanding stats & playing teams named The Ovens. You can check out the stats from his 1861-1862 season here, if you’re interested.


H.H. Stephenson (Middle row: Second from left) with his English touring team, while aboard ship in North America.

In 1878, a newspaper dubbed hitting three wickets on three balls a  “hat trick” & awarding the athlete a hat upon completion became tradition. Now, everyone who hits three wickets in a row earns a hat.

The term translated across the sporting world & made its way to various sports, the most famous use being when a player in hockey scores three goals in one game. By 1940, the Toronto Maple Leafs were awarding their hat tricking players with hats.


In hockey, the formal presentation has given way to fan celebration, apparent here as they shower the ice with hats after Alex Ovechkin’s 2010 hat trick for the Capitals.

I’m not the most gigantic sports fan, but it’s nice to think that this expression has its roots back in a day when playing sports really was about having fun & honoring fellow & opposing athletes alike, instead of pumping full of steroids & throwing fits when you can’t score your eight million dollar deal.

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this & now there’s only one thing left to say:
Now you know; you’re welcome.

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