Out of Left Field – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that their idea was unexpected? You could say that it came from “out of left field.” This post unpacks the origin and meaning of this expression.

Meaning

The saying “out of left field” means that someone took you by surprise with an answer to a question or a proposal on a topic that seems innovative.

It can also mean that someone appears to act or speak strangely and may have mental health issues. The expression means that a person came up with an innovative or creative idea by thinking outside the box.

Example Usage

“Wow, Kim, that was straight out of left field. How long have you been thinking about that idea? It’s what we need for the project.”

“That was from out of left field. How can you say that the whole world is run by a cabal of the rich elite?”

“That was out of left field. You caught me with my guard down, and I don’t know how to reply to that.”

“Howard from HR came up with this crazy idea from out of left field, but I think it might work. Let’s give it a try. What do you think?”

“That was from way out of left field Bobby. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about that.”

“Tracey’s ideas are so strange. They always come from out of left field. The last time she asked the professor about gravity, they kept the class back for 20-minutes.”

Origin

The origin of the expression “out of left field” comes from baseball jargon. As many baseball batters are right-handed, the natural tendency is to hit to the left. As a result, they are more likely to take power shots and for a left fielder to catch them in a spectacular show of athleticism.

Hence, if a player makes a huge dive for the ball on a bit hit, they would come out of left field” to win the game for their team. The left-field also refers to the side where the home team’s dugout usually appears on the baseball field.

Patients at the Neuropsychiatric Institute were said to be “out of left field” because the building’s location was behind left field in Chicago’s old West Side Park. So, being told you were out of left field meant you were dealing with mental challenges.

Eric Partridge authored the “Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day,” where the saying appears as follows.

“you’re way out in left field . . . ‘In baseball, left field is at the furthest distance from the batter, to his left; [literally] it means “You’re hopelessly far away from where you should be to catch the batted ball and thus put the batter out'”

Phrases Similar to Out of Left Field

  • That came out of nowhere.
  • Thinking outside the box.
  • Off the wall.
  • Far-out.

Phrases Opposite to Out of Left Field

  • That was obvious.
  • No surprise there.
  • Uneventful and uninspiring.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Out of left field.

Ways People May Say Out of Left Field Incorrectly

Using the phrase to reference action in a baseball game is incorrect. The saying has nothing to do with the sport anymore. In this case, the “left field” is an unexpected occurrence or theatrical event. Using it to describe actions in baseball is incorrect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Out of Left Field

You can use the expression “out of left field” when referring to something unexpected occurring in your life. The term suits social and professional use. You can use it at work to compliment an employee for presenting an innovative idea from out of nowhere.

You can use it at home when your partner says something unexpected or unrelated to the topic of discussion. It’s a way of describing something as unforeseen and intelligent or innovative and strange.

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