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In an episode of Cougar Town, I noticed one of the characters told her friend 'I don't swing at soft balls'. First I thought it was an idiom, but I couldn't find it anywhere when I started looking it up. Here's the dialogue:

Girl 1 - Luckily, I can control my gag reflex.
Girl 2 - (ignoring)
Girl 1 - What, nothing?!
Girl 2 - I don't swing at soft balls.

I would like to know whether this is normally used in English or it is just a phrase coined for the occasion.

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This is not me. –  Kris Mar 14 '13 at 11:06
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This revolves around a couple of related idioms, actually, related to baseball and softball.

Let's say two people are engaged in a debate. One says something that makes it easy for the other to make an incontrovertible point, and win that round of the debate. In the debating circles, the act of making a memorable, incontrovertible point is sometimes called "hitting a home run," and the gaffe that makes it easy for that home run to be hit is sometimes called "an easy pitch" (or "a softball"). One renowned softball I remember was when Dan Quayle spoke of how his relatively young age shouldn't be in issue in him being qualified to serve as president, if needed. His opponent, Lloyd Bentsen, was ready for that pitch.

Sometimes this baseball/softball analogy is applied to interview situations as well. If a journalist giving a recorded interview doesn't ask any hard questions ("hard" in this case means something that would make the interviewee uncomfortable, such as questions about a recent scandal, perhaps), that is sometimes described as softball questions, or a softball interview (see this headline, for example: Kroft's Softball Obama Interviews Diminish '60 Minutes'). In a similar way, an interviewer who asks an unexpectedly difficult question might be said to have "thrown a curve ball," or one who asks a lot of tough questions relentlessly might be described as "playing hardball" during the interview.

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Since Girl 2 is ignoring Girl 1 and Girl 1 feels jilted, my conclusion is that a "soft ball" is a setup for an easy joke. Girl 2 recognizes that any woman's mention of her own gag reflex is an easy target for a lewd joke. Girl 2 doesn't want to make that joke because she thinks it's being tossed at her, underhand, very hittable, like a soft ball: it's too easy. She's above it.

I don't think it's very idiomatic. A similar expression, low-hanging fruit, has a similar meaning.

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