Digital Next post: Word trends: digital

Book quiz: do you know these classic first lines? Previous Post: Book quiz: do you know these classic first lines?

The Madness of March and the Oxford Dictionaries Bracket Challenge

March Madness, the single elimination college basketball tournament, is upon us. All month long, the top 68 teams in the US will duke it out in a series of rounds—some of which are remarkable feats in and of themselves, like the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four—for the NCAA Division I championship title. Oftentimes a player can parlay a stellar performance in these rounds into a lucrative deal to play professionally.

Created in 1939, the annual men’s competition has become one of the most popular sporting events in the nation, sitting comfortably among the ranks of the World Series and Super Bowl in terms of media hype and fan fervor. While the earliest record of March madness in the Oxford English Dictionary refers to “a form of madness or uncharacteristic behaviour said to affect people in March (perh[aps] from the unsettled weather),” the name was co-opted by college basketball aficionados in the 1970s to describe the tournament’s intensity and popularity.

What really sets this event apart from so many others in sports is the inclusive tradition of pooling and bracket diagramming that extends past fans to those who don’t even follow the sport. Office and other group pools are enticing to both devoted team supporters and casual game watchers for placing low-stakes bets. High profile participants also provide an ample amount of publicity to the college teams. A big news item each year: President Obama’s bracket picks.

Bracketology, the practice of predicting the champion by anticipating each round’s winners and losers, has also expanded beyond the confines of the NCAA tournament. Any race with an even number of contenders can potentially form a bracket—from {Cats vs. Dogs} to {Oscar “Best Picture” nominees}. As gratifying (and potentially profitable) as coming out on top of the pool can be, equally as exciting are the upsets and come-from-behind victories that keep bracket participants on their toes.

With that in mind, Oxford Dictionaries is hosting its own bracket challenge: a weekly tournament in which we invite you to cast your votes to decide which common expression with roots in sports reigns supreme. The first round, the Sweet Sixteen, pits two “competitors” from the same sport against one another. Each subsequent week, the winning sports will face off until a champion is announced. Choose your favorites in the poll below, and find out next Monday who advances to the Elite Eight!