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March Madness: Championship Final

This is it, folks. We’ve reached the main event: the winner-takes-all championship final of the Oxford Dictionaries Bracket Challenge. After three rounds of brutal takedowns, white-knuckled anticipation, and not a little bit of hyperbole, only two worthy contenders are left to complete for the title of Favorite Sport Expression.

Saved by the bell

Defined in the 1954 Boxing Reference Dictionary as “a boxer saved from being counted out because the end of the round is signaled,” the earliest roots of saved by the bell can be traced to a 1932 issue of Ring, an American boxing magazine. Its figurative use, noted in the Oxford English Dictionary as “saved (as from an unpleasant occurrence) by timely interruption,” arrived in the late 1950s by way of the beloved Alan Sillitoe short story “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”:

‘Ain’t it next door to a pub, then?’ I wanted to know. He answered me sharp: ‘No, it bloody well ain’t.’…‘Then I don’t know it,’ I told him, saved by the bell.

Butterfingers

Not just a candy bar, a butterfingers is one of the most damning names an athlete who plays a ball sport can be called. Its origins lie in the adjectival form, “butter-fingered,” which according to the OED, dates back to 1615 and describes a person, “that takes hold of things with a loose slippery grasp, as if with fingers greased with butter.” The noun was recorded in 1836 by Charles Dickens in his first novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, in which a spectator can’t help but voice his strong opinions during a cricket match:

[At] every bad attempt at a catch, and every failure to stop the ball, he launched his personal displeasure at the head of the devoted individual in such denunciations as- ‘Ah, ah!–stupid’–‘Now, butter-fingers’–‘Muff’–‘Humbug’–and so forth—ejaculations which seemed to establish him in the opinion of all around, as a most excellent and undeniable judge of the whole art and mystery of the noble game of cricket.

Which will win?

In a competition so evenly matched in both literary pedigree and popularity, it is impossible to predict which expression will come out victorious in the Championship round. Boxing, the combat sport that is said to have existed in some form since the 3rd millennium BC, and cricket, the bat-and-ball game that some consider to be the second most popular sport in the world after Association Football, have rich legacies to uphold. Cast your vote in the poll below to decide who will take home the glory!