Where does the expression 'make the call' come from?

We have the evidence but it's up to the jury to make the call.

  • 2
    My guess (which I can't confirm) is that this is another idiom taken from baseball, a reference to the umpire making the call (often connoting a difficult choice between two things), for example whether it's a ball or a strike. – anongoodnurse Dec 30 '13 at 6:56
  • Why then does the umpire use the expression make a call? Why call? – Joshua Robison Dec 31 '13 at 1:30
  • Is this actually an idiom? Call means to cry out, make noise, etc. in a literal or figurative sense in nearly all the definitions I found. In this case it's a formal pronouncement or decision. – Jesse M Mar 13 '16 at 1:27
  • @medica - "Make the call" refers to choosing a strategy, not something an umpire typically does. – Hot Licks Mar 13 '16 at 22:02
  • @HotLicks - I'm woefully ignorant of most sports (well, all of them, I believe), so I can't comment. I did state it was a guess. I wonder why it was up voted? – anongoodnurse Mar 13 '16 at 22:55

call decision

a) [countable]: the decision made by a referee in a sports game

make a good/bad call

There may have been a few bad calls, but they're making them for a reason.

b) [singular] (informal): a decision

Don't just say what you think I would like. It's your call.


I think usage (b) derived from usage (a)


  • My first thought was that it came from sports but then I wondered why the word call was used. Call must have originally come from a phone call that needed to be made or a shout and then it began to be used in sports. That's my hypothesis anyways. – Joshua Robison Dec 30 '13 at 14:26
  • 1
    Probably when the referees make decision, they CALL the players to be in front of them?? – sotondolphin Dec 30 '13 at 14:29
  • Note that the #2 definition is the subject of this question. And note that the use of the idiom (in the US) is with regard to choosing a strategy, so the #1 definition does not fit. – Hot Licks Mar 12 '16 at 23:25

I have always assumed that the reference is to American football, where the quarterback must "call the play" -- specify what pattern/strategy will be used by his team -- in the huddle that occurs before the offensive team initiates a "play" by having their "center" "snap" the ball.

In most cases the quarterback chooses the play himself (from a "playbook" of options), but in some cases the play to be used is signalled in by the coach on the sidelines, somewhat analogous to upper-level management directing the actions of the first-line manager.

The expression "make the call" is often used in business meetings to refer to choosing a strategy. It's instructive to note that this usage is not analogous to a decision by a referee during/after a "play", since (except in the case of dysfunctional management) the "call" must be made early enough to affect the actions of the players on the team.

protected by user140086 Mar 13 '16 at 9:20

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