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I recently tried to use the expression "bounce an opportunity off someone" in writing, but using it seemed awkward to me. The expression "bounce an idea off someone" felt much more comfortable, but it didn't convey what I meant to get across. I believe the expression means something like "I want to conversationally determine what someone's thoughts are about a particular idea", but I'm not even sure if that interpretation is correct.

  1. What does it mean to bounce an idea off someone? Does the expression have a known origin?
  2. Can I only bounce "ideas" off someone? Can it extend to other concepts (such as "opportunities")?
  3. Is there a better way to idiomatically express the phrase "bounce an opportunity off someone", in the sense of "I want to conversationally gauge someone's level of interest in a particular opportunity"?
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It's just a metaphorical usage. You "throw" an idea at someone, and note how it "bounces" off them. If it doesn't bounce at all, your idea fell flat, which probably means it's a bad idea. You don't "bounce an opportunity" off someone - you sound them out about it. –  FumbleFingers Jan 2 '13 at 21:49
    
Thanks for the comment. I'll look into the "sound out" usage soon. –  Peter Majeed Jan 3 '13 at 1:55
    
@Downvoter: any reason for the anonymous downvote? Would be more useful. –  Peter Majeed Jan 3 '13 at 1:55
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Bouncing an idea off a person means requesting that the person give a somewhat immediate response or gut reaction to the idea. Metaphorically speaking, the response bounces back to you right away.

It is rare to find the actual origin of a new word or a new sense of a word. I checked various standard references but found no known origin for this metaphor. The earliest use I found in print is the book U.S. International Business and Governments by Jack N. Behrman (McGraw-Hill, 1971):

The existence of these associations … permits government officials to know that, at almost any critical time, they can find an audience against which to bounce an idea or a new policy.¹

The quotation above shows that it is possible to bounce things other than ideas off someone. I think there is nothing wrong with “bouncing an opportunity” off someone. Alternately, you could “bounce an idea for an opportunity” off them, or “bounce a business proposal off them” if that is an appropriate restatement.

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+1: To be honest, I actually like the first answer better, but I really appreciate the legwork you put in, and I feel it somehow better answers every aspect of the question. –  Peter Majeed Jan 3 '13 at 1:51
    
Here are a few earlier ones going back to at least 1946. –  FumbleFingers Jan 3 '13 at 4:46
    
@FumbleFingers Excellent. With some wheedling and coaxing of Google Book Search, I have come to believe most of those are excerpts or reprints of an article in Forbes Magazine, "So You're Going to a Convention" by Norman G. Shidle. The year of publication might be 1946. –  MετάEd Jan 3 '13 at 5:03
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Beaver Valley Times, Saturday, April 21, 1956, p. 8 "Ideas have much in common with rubber balls. The way they bounce depends on where they start from; the force with which they were thrown, dropped, tossed, or pushed; the character of the surface on which they hit; the "texture" of the ball or idea itself, the ambient temperature in which the bounce takes place. All of these influence the bounce of a ball – and the rebound of an idea.—Norman G. Shidle" –  MετάEd Jan 3 '13 at 5:23
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@MετάEd: Nah - I'm sure it would have been commonplace by the time Shidle wrote it. You might think this 1930 an idea bounced into his mind is a "different" sense, but this 1944 we just stay here and bounce ideas back and forth for hours is pretty much OP's usage. I think it would hardly need a "populariser", being such transparent imagery. –  FumbleFingers Jan 3 '13 at 12:49
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  1. Bounce an idea off someone

    informal, share an idea with another person in order to get feedback on it.

  2. Metaphorically, I know of nothing else that can be “bounced” off someone.
  3. You might, run an opportunity by someone”.

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+1, especially for your third point. I'll have to find more ways to use that expression. –  Peter Majeed Jan 3 '13 at 1:53
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Can I only bounce "ideas" off someone? Can it extend to other concepts (such as "opportunities")?

No, you cannot – not unless you want to get some strange looks. It seems like only ideas get bounced off people – not questions, thoughts, opportunities, or proposals:

enter image description here

(I thought this was an interesting question, though, which is why I decided to check.)

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+1: Thanks for the link with data. And I'm actually quite used to saying many funny things that earn me strange looks from people, so maybe I'll be checking in here more often than not going forward. :-) Thanks again. –  Peter Majeed Jan 3 '13 at 13:21
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@Peter: BTW, nothing wrong with using unusual language in conversation. If someone told me, "I want to bounce an opportunity off you," and I had a quizzical look, and that person continued, "Why not? If you can bounce an idea, you should be able to bounce an opportunity, too, right?" I'd be impressed with their original thinking. (I mean, I wouldn't use that during a job interview, but there are times where such quirky language can be memorable and appropriate.) –  J.R. Jan 3 '13 at 13:57
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