Below Par: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 29, 2023

When we say that a person or thing is "below par," it means they're not meeting the usual or expected standards. In other words, their performance or quality is lower than acceptable or desired.

In short:

"Below par" typically means something that is not up to the standard or expectation.

What Does “Below Par” Mean?

The phrase "below par" suggests that something is not as good as the standard or as expected.  In golf, "par" is the expected number of strokes to complete a hole or course, and scoring "below par" (like a birdie or eagle) is good. Outside of golf, the phrase has the opposite meaning, suggesting inadequacy or a substandard condition.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning:

  • Below par" indicates a lower level of quality, performance, or condition than what is considered standard or expected.
  • It's useful when you want to express that something fails to meet the usually accepted standards. For example, "His performance at work has been below par since he returned from vacation.
  • This idiom can refer to anything that can be evaluated against an expected level, including work, health, or manufactured goods.
  • Some words that share similar meanings with "below par" are "substandard," "inferior," and "unsatisfactory."

Where Does “Below Par” Come From?

The phrase “below par” has its roots in the financial exchanges of the early 18th century. The term “par” is short for “par of exchange,” which refers to the recognized value of one country’s currency in terms of another, what we now call the “rate of exchange.” The phrase “below par” was first used to describe the movement of currency values in the 1720s.

10 Examples of “Below Par” in Sentences

Here are some examples that illustrate the use of the idiom in various contexts:

  • The movie's storyline was interesting, but the acting was below par.
  • After working three consecutive nights, she felt below par and decided to take a day off.
  • The new restaurant's food tastes below par compared to its competitors.
  • Despite the hype, the sales numbers for the product were below par.
  • He has been feeling below par since he skipped his morning run.
  • The graph shows that our profits this quarter are below par.
  • Her draft of the article was below par, so she had to revise it.
  • By the end of the hot day, the team's performance was significantly below par.
  • They offer the software for free, but the features are below par.
  • His drive to succeed ensures he never delivers work that's below par.

Examples of “Below Par” in Pop Culture

The idiom "below par" has found its way into various forms of media and entertainment. Here are some real instances where the phrase has been used:

  • In a news article titled “Below par: Pundit now thinks he knows why £30m Arsenal star is looking ‘jaded”, Adrian Clarke, a former Arsenal midfielder and football journalist, discusses why Martin Odegaard has struggled in recent weeks
  • In an episode of the “Absolute Football Podcast,” the phrase “below par” is used in the title "Man City Lose, Villa are Killer and VAR below Par."
  • "Below Par" is a book by Lane Cohen, which tells the story of Charley Davis, who, after being dumped by his girlfriend, is offered a chance by his uncle to improve his life by learning to play golf.
  • A quote by William Hanna from Goodreads discusses the use of dark psychology to dehumanize certain ethnic and religious groups, mentioning "below par intelligence or morality" as a means to ostracize a minority group while boosting the majority's ego.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say “Below Par"

There are several other ways to convey the same or similar meaning as "below par." Some of these include:

  • Substandard
  • Not up to scratch
  • Inferior
  • Underwhelming

10 Frequently Asked Questions About “Below Par”:

  • What does "below par" mean in golf?

In golf, "below par" means that a golfer has taken fewer strokes than the set standard for a hole or course. It's a positive thing in this context.

  • Is "below par" a positive or negative phrase?

In general English, "below par" has a negative connotation, indicating something is not up to the standard. However, in golf, it's a positive term.

  • How did "below par" transition from a positive to a negative meaning?

The phrase was borrowed from golf and used in broader contexts where being "below" a standard or average was seen as negative.

  • Can "below par" be used to describe a person's health?

Yes, "below par" can be used to describe someone feeling unwell or not at their best. For example, "I'm feeling a bit below par today."

  • Is "above par" the opposite of "below par"?

In golf, "above par" means taking more strokes than the set standard, which is not ideal. In general language, "above par" can mean better than average or expected.

  • How is "below par" commonly used in business contexts?

In business, "below par" can refer to performance or results that are not up to the expected standard. For instance, "The sales for this quarter were below par."

  • Can "below par" be used in academic settings?

Yes, it can be used to describe performance or results that are not up to the expected standard. For example, "His grades this semester were below par."

  • Are there other idioms related to "below par"?

Yes, idioms like "up to scratch," "up to snuff," and "up to the mark" convey similar meanings as "below par" when indicating something is not meeting the standard.

  • How has the use of "below par" evolved over time?

While its origins are in golf, where it has a positive connotation, its adaptation into general language has given it a more negative meaning, indicating something is not up to standard.

  • Is "below par" used globally?

While the idiom originates from English, it's understood in many parts of the world, especially where English is spoken. Its use in golf also gives it global recognition.

Final Thoughts About “Below Par”

The phrase "below par" refers to a level of quality, performance, or well-being lower than what is standard or expected. Its modern usage is seen in golf, where it means better than the expected standard. The term has taken a contrary meaning in general usage, indicating something is unsatisfactory or deficient.

To recap:

  • "Below par" is often used to describe poor performance, health, or quality compared to the normal or required standard.
  • The idiom is adaptable to various situations, such as critiquing work ("His latest report was below par"), commenting on health ("I'm feeling below par today"), or evaluating products ("The build quality of this car is below par").
  • Using "below par" conveys a clear benchmark or expectation that has not been met, emphasizing a need for improvement or acknowledgment of disappointment.

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