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The meaning and origin of the expression: Hit for six

Hit for six

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Hit for six'?

To be hit (or knocked) for six is to be dealt a severe blow, emotional or physical, or to have one's arguments or schemes swept aside.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Hit for six'?

Hit for sixThe expression 'hit for six' derives from the game of cricket. To those unfamiliar with the rules (which probably includes anyone from a country where the game isn't played) six runs are scored when the ball is hit over the boundary without first touching the ground. So, a bowler is said to be 'hit for six' when the batsman hits a ball into the crowd.

There are many references in print to 'a hit for six' from the 1840s onward, usually preceded by 'splendid, fine, rare, enormous' etc., as in this example from Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, July 1847:

Sewell then made a brilliant hit for six.

These examples all use 'hit' as a noun, that is, 'a hit'. It took a few more years for 'hit for six' to be used with 'hit' as a verb, that is, 'to be hit'. The first known use that I know of, which is really the begining of the use of the expression 'hit for six', comes from the Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle, October 1866:

As to being bowled by a slow half volley, which any one else would have hit for six, it is positively heart-breaking.

In the recent more explosive short-over forms of the game sixes are hit frequently, but when the term was coined sixes weren't common and any bowler being hit for six would have been somewhat crestfallen.

The expression was later used figuratively to mean 'have the stuffing knocked out of one'. This didn't begin to be used until the mid-20th century and the earliest citation I know of is from the Times Literary Supplement, May 1937:

Lawrence was chiefly concerned to hit swots and cads and foreigners for six.

Knocked for sixThe expression is somewhat dated but was revived in the UK recently when it was used in Gone Fishing, a popular BBC tv series in which comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse recover from heart problems by spending days out fishing. In the opening credits Mortimer says:

"I had a triple heart bypass, it knocked me for six actually."

See also: Bowl a maiden over

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

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