Ballpark Figure - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you asking a contractor for a rough estimate on the costs of repairing or renovating your home? You could ask them to give you a "ballpark figure" over the phone to get an idea of what you need to loan from the bank for the project.

This post looks at the origins and meaning of the phrase "ballpark figure." We'll also give you examples of how to use this idiom in a conversation.

Ballpark Figure Meaning

A ballpark figure means to give someone a rough estimate. You could be estimating everything from the size of a baseball stadium to betting odds or a quote on a new swimming pool for your yard. The term ballpark figure applies to many different situations, and it's a common phrase used in modern language – you probably use it yourself.

The phrase is an adaptation of the earlier "in the ballpark," also used to ask someone for an estimate of a specific number or price in the ballpark. The phrase is also slang or colloquial saying, and it applies more to informal than formal settings.

If you ask someone for a "ballpark figure" on building you a garage at home, then you're asking them for a rough estimate on the costs of the work. You are not asking them to commit to a firm price; you're just trying to clarify the expenses because you have no idea what to expect.

Ballpark Figure Example Usage

"I need that estimate right now; give me a ballpark figure."

"I need that estimate right now; ballpark it."

"I need that quote right now; give me a ballpark estimate.”

"How big do you think the room is? Give me a ballpark figure."

"How long do you think we have to drive to get from Florida to North Carolina? What's a ballpark number?"

"Give me a ballpark figure for the value of your car."

"What's your weight? Give me a ballpark figure."

Ballpark Figure Origin

So, where does the phrase "ballpark figure" come from? Strangely, the meaning of the term is for a general estimate, but baseball is a sport driven by accurate statistics and record keeping. Anyhow, the first use of "ballpark figure" goes back to around 1962.

William Safire quotes lexicographer Stuart Flexner on its evolution in the book "I Stand Corrected." He states the following: "Our Random House dictionary citation files show the term first started as in the ballpark (1962), as when talking about figures, estimates, etc., with "I hope that's in the ballpark.' Then, in 1968, we first recorded ballpark figure from The Seattle Times."

Etymonline offers us the following explanation. "Figurative sense of "acceptable range of approximation" first recorded 1960, originally referring to area within which a spacecraft was expected to return to the earth; the reference is too broad but reasonably predictable dimensions."

Phrases Similar to Ballpark Figure

  • A rough estimate.
  • A rough figure.
  • Thumbsuck a number.
  • Wild guess.
  • Your best guess.
  • Give me a number.

Phrases Opposite to Ballpark Figure

  • I need a transparent estimate.
  • I need an accurate number.
  • I need it down to the cent.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Ballpark figure.
  • Ballpark estimate.
  • Ballpark quote.
  • Ballpark it.

Ways People May Say Ballpark Figure Incorrectly

People may use "ballpark figure" inaccurately and in the wrong context. Using a "ballpark figure" in the board room during a presentation would probably give an impression of inaccuracy or uncertainty.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Ballpark Figure

You can use "ballpark figure" in social and professional situations but not in a formal conversation. So, if you're with your boss and chatting privately, using the language would be appropriate.

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