Around The Horn: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 26, 2023

The phrase “around the horn” or “go around the horn” is an informal and idiomatic expression that has different meanings depending on the context. It can mean sailing around Cape Horn, throwing a ball from third base to second base to first base, communicating via shipboard communications, or taking a difficult or longer route. It has its roots in the nautical term for sailing around Cape Horn, which was one of the most difficult and dangerous routes in maritime history. Depending on the meaning and context, it can have positive, negative, or neutral connotations.

In short:

  • The phrase refers to the action in baseball where the ball is thrown from third base to first base to secure an out.
  • In sailing, it refers to the journey from the east coast of South America to the west coast of North America, which required sailing around the southern tip of South America, known as Cape Horn.
  • In general usage, it refers to completing a journey or task that requires going through a difficult or challenging route.

What Does "Around the Horn" Mean?

The phrase “around the horn” can serve two very different contexts, each with its unique connotations. For baseball enthusiasts, it conjures a particular field play. For the seafaring folk or history buffs, it paints an image of a treacherous voyage. But let's unravel these meanings a bit more for clear comprehension.

Let's delve into the core meanings and usage:

  • The phrase is usually used as a prepositional phrase with a verb, such as “sail around the horn,” “throw around the horn,” “talk around the horn,” etc. The verb can indicate the action or purpose of going around the horn.
  • It also denotes an infield practice in baseball where the ball is thrown from the third baseman to the second baseman, then to the first baseman, usually after a strikeout.
  • Alternatively, in maritime history, "around the horn" refers to a ship's journey around Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. This route was historically known for its hazardous conditions but was a necessary journey for trade during the Age of Sail.
  • Though it's not common in daily conversations, the phrase can occasionally symbolize a long or arduous process or journey in other contexts.
  • Similar phrases to "around the horn" include "cover all bases" in a general sense or "round the bend" in a nautical context.

Where Does "Around the Horn" Come From?

The origins of "around the horn" have roots in both sport and maritime adventures. The baseball interpretation seems to have arisen from the practice of moving the ball 'around the diamond,' though the phrase isn't as old as the game itself. The maritime origin traces back to the 17th century when trade ships had to navigate Cape Horn, a challenging and dangerous journey, to reach the Pacific from the Atlantic.

Historical Example

"The steering gear broke down in the South Atlantic, and he had toventure around the "Horn" with a patched-up affair. He lost one man by sickness and one by drowning, and to clap the climax, was run into at 1 A. M. one dark morning off Cape Horn by an iron bark."

- Morton MacMichael, A Landlubber's Log of a Voyage Around the "Horn," 1879

The quoted sentence gives us an example of how "around the horn" was used in literature to refer to the challenging sea voyage around Cape Horn.

10 Examples of "Around the Horn" in Sentences

Let's give you a firmer grasp on when to use "around the horn" through examples from various scenarios:

  • After the strikeout, the players passed the ball around the horn, a visual testament to their team spirit.
  • Shipping goods around the horn was a dangerous yet necessary endeavor during the Age of Sail.
  • I hope all is well with you and your family around the horn.
  • Have a safe journey as you go around the horn to reach your destination.
  • Completing his project felt like sailing around the horn— challenging but ultimately rewarding.
  • It would be great to see you again after coming back from your trip around the horn.
  • The sailors braced themselves as they prepared to go around the horn, knowing the voyage's dangerous reputation.
  • We'll keep practicing that seamless around-the-horn play until next time.
  • Welcome aboard, captain. We are ready to sail around the horn with you.
  • The crowd is up and cheering. We just went around the horn and got three outs in a row.

Examples of "Around the Horn" in Pop Culture

The phrase "around the horn" is somewhat less common in pop culture, but it does have its appearances, particularly in sports and historical contexts.

Let's look at some examples:

  • "Around the Horn" is a popular sports debate show aired on ESPN. It features sports journalists from across America debating on the latest sports news.
  • "Two Years Before the Mast" is a book written by Richard Henry Dana Jr., detailing his sea voyage around the Horn during the 19th century. It provides valuable insights into sea life during that period.
  • In the movie "Captain Phillips," the phrase "around the horn" is used in the context of traveling around the Horn of Africa.
  • "Around The Horn: 21 Modal Scales and Arpeggios Every Jazz Musician Needs To Know" is a book by Walt Weiskopf that provides a thorough and exhaustive study of scales and arpeggios for jazz musicians.
  • "Around the Horn" is another book by Emil Mihelich that celebrates adventure.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Around the Horn"

Not many alternative expressions exist for "around the horn" because of its specific contexts. However, we can use these few phrases in certain situations.

Here are some of them:

  • In a baseball context: "Passing the ball around the infield."
  • In a maritime context: "Sailing Cape Horn" or "Circumnavigating Cape Horn."
  • In a general sense, for a long or challenging process: "A long haul," "An uphill battle," or "A marathon, not a sprint."

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Around the Horn":

  • What does "around the horn" mean?

"Around the horn" is an idiomatic expression originating from a nautical context, referring to the route around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. Nowadays, it's commonly used in sports, particularly in baseball, to refer to a specific defensive play where the ball is thrown in sequence from the third baseman, to the second baseman, to the first baseman.

  • How can I use "around the horn" in a sentence?

In a sports context, you could say, "Life is like a game of baseball. Sometimes you have to go around the horn, sometimes you have to steal a base."

  • Where does the phrase "around the horn" originate from?

"Around the horn" originated from the sea-faring world, specifically referring to the challenging journey around Cape Horn. This perilous route was often used during the 19th and early 20th centuries for trade or exploration voyages.

  • Does "around the horn" have other meanings outside of sports?

Yes, in modern conversations, "around the horn" can also imply a process of passing something around in a systematic or orderly manner, not strictly limited to sports.

  • Does the term "around the horn" have global usage?

While the term is recognized worldwide due to the popularity of American sports, its usage is more prevalent in countries where sports like baseball are popular.

  • Can we associate "around the horn" with any specific fields or professions?

Primarily, it's used in the sporting world, specifically baseball. However, it might occasionally be used in other professional or informal contexts to signify the orderly passing of tasks or items.

  • How common is the use of "around the horn" in daily conversation?

Unless you're talking about baseball or other sports where this phrase is used, "around the horn" isn't commonly used in everyday conversation.

  • Are there any popular cultural references involving "around the horn"?

Yes, "Around the Horn" is a popular sports discussion show on ESPN where a panel of sports writers across the country discuss and debate various sports topics.

  • What's the most accurate interpretation of "around the horn" in baseball?

In baseball, "around the horn" is a specific play involving the ball being thrown in sequence from the third baseman to the second baseman to the first baseman, often done in celebration after a strikeout.

  • Does "around the horn" hold any metaphorical meanings?

Metaphorically, "around the horn" can signify a challenging journey or task, akin to the treacherous sea journey it originally referred to.

Final Thoughts About "Around the Horn"

"Around the horn" is an idiom that has transitioned from its nautical origins to becoming a popular phrase in sports, particularly in baseball. It encapsulates the idea of a systematic or organized passing of something – be it a ball in a game or tasks in a professional setting.

Here's a quick recap:

  • The idiom originally referred to the dangerous sea route around Cape Horn but has evolved to have different meanings in sports and casual conversation.
  • In baseball, it denotes a specific play involving multiple players, often done in celebration.
  • Outside of sports, it can imply an orderly process of passing items or tasks around a group.

Whether in sports or daily talk, 'around the horn' represents teamwork, order, and tackling tough tasks, echoing its sea-faring roots.

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