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Strike as an English word (meaning to hit) is certainly older than strike as a baseball term (meaning not to hit), so what puzzles me is that the word adopted for the action is the exact opposite of the action.

Etymonline indicates that the first use is in the mid-19th century, but gives no indication of how it came to be used.

Can anyone shed any light on why such an ill-suited word was chosen for the action of not striking the ball? If it is is actually an appropriate word for this, why is it?

(Additionally, to be stricken by something, usually an illness I believe, means to be afflicted by it, and seems to be a metaphor for being hit by an disease.)

Edit: Interesting things to consider
In the context of the American court systemref (and probably elsewhere), strike is used to mean "remove". Similarly, this is strike text.

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I'm not too sure about the synonyms and antonyms tags both applying to this (I just thought it would be an interesting, relevant pairing)... –  Jim Sep 30 '11 at 19:25
Plus, of course, you can be stricken from the record, but I don't think that will happen to this question. –  FumbleFingers Sep 30 '11 at 20:48
About the synonym/antonym tags: Wikipedia's page on auto-antonyms includes strike as an example of an auto-antonym (a word which is its own antonym). Related: Is the term “antagonym” widely used to describe a word that is its own antonym? I edited the question so it has an auto-antonyms tag –  Daniel Sep 30 '11 at 21:01
How does this relate to workers "going on strike"? Could there me some correlation with that use? –  Lee Quarella Oct 2 '11 at 19:24
Check the etymonline link in the question, it explains it. –  Jim Oct 3 '11 at 2:00

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of strike in baseball was originally referred to as:

An act of striking at the ball, characterized as a fair or foul strike (see quot. 1874); three ‘foul strikes’ cause the batter to be put out.

The literal definition is (there is also the figurative one of having "a strike against you):

A ‘foul strike’, or any act or shortcoming on the batter's part which incurs the same penalty. Hence, a pitched ball recorded against the batter; esp. as one of three counts against the batter

It was first used in the 1800s:

1841 Picayune (New Orleans) 25 May 2/2 If ‘Edith’ wishes to see ‘a great strike’‥, let her walk down Water street‥and see the ‘bachelors’ make the ball fly.

So a strike in baseball comes from the attempt to strike the ball. It seems that it was used positively for a while--there are quotes referring to "great strikes". It looks like our current use of strike could be a shortening of foul strike--it only maintained its negative meaning. By the end of the 1800s, it still referred to the physical act of hitting something:

1896 R. G. Knowles & M. Morton Baseball 103 Strike.—When the batsman tries and fails to hit a ball delivered to him by the pitcher, or refuses to strike at a fair ball.

By the 1900s, however, it was a negative thing:

1912 C. Mathewson Pitching in Pinch 12 It put me in the hole with the count two balls and one strike.

This is the way we use it today.

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The word "strike" probably is derived from the English game cricket. A batter in cricket is a "striker" .

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