10 sports idioms to get the ball rolling in your writing and make your next English essay a slam dunk

  • As Hong Kong’s sports matches slowly resume, here are some English idioms you can take from the court to your next paper
  • We also introduce a phrase in Cantonese slang about calling in sick to work when you’re not actually ill
Yanni Chow |

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We’ve compiled these idioms, but we can’t write your essay for you –the ball is in your court now. Illustration: Shutterstock

Large-scale sports matches are slowly resuming in Hong Kong. The much-anticipated Hong Kong Sevens will be returning in November while the Cross Harbour Race swim is set for October 23. The Hong Kong Masters, an invitational snooker tournament, is also making its comeback in October.

Let’s learn some English idioms inspired by the excitement of the sports scene – we also have a phrase from Cantonese that you can use when you’ve had a tad too much fun.

Learn Cantonese slang: how to talk about sports in Hong Kong

1. Call the shots

Meaning: to exercise authority; to be in charge

Example: The CEO is sick, so her deputy, Mandy, will be calling the shots today.

2. Drop the ball

Meaning: to make an error; to miss an opportunity

Example: Jessica dropped the ball when she missed the call from the job she wanted and they offered the position to someone else.

3. Down to the wire

Meaning: to the last minute; to the very end

Example: This competition is going down to the wire – I can’t tell who will win.

As the game goes down to the wire, everyone holds their breath. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Get the ball rolling

Meaning: to start an activity; or to keep an activity from slowing down

Example: We have to get the ball rolling on this project soon – should we schedule a meeting today?

5. Hit below the belt

Meaning: to say something unfair, irrelevant and too personal

Example: I know she really wants the promotion, but she hit below the belt when she told our boss about my personal problems.

6. Make the cut

Meaning: to be chosen out of a field of candidates or possibilities

Example: This job is highly sought after – out of a pool of 40 applicants, only three made the cut.

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7. Have the upper hand

Meaning: to be in the dominating or controlling position; to have the advantage

Example: Jeffrey clearly has the upper hand in this boxing match. Look at how muscular he is compared to his opponent.

8. Take sides

Meaning: to support or favour one party in a dispute

Example: Parents shouldn’t take sides in their children’s quarrels.

9. The ball is in your court

Meaning: used to tell someone they must take action

Example: I’ve helped him in every way I can – the ball is in his court now.

10. Slam dunk

Meaning: describes something regarded as certain to occur or be accomplished, typically something desirable that requires little further effort

Example: The vote will be a slam dunk for our side, so don’t worry about it.

US basketball star LeBron James scores a slam dunk during a game. Photo: AFP

Here’s a phrase in Cantonese slang to mix things up ...

射波 se6 bo1 (seh-bor): shoot the ball

Meaning: to call in sick and skip work when you’re not actually ill

In English: play hookey; absent without leave

Example: Jason partied until late last night, so this morning, he seh-bor to sleep in.

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