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. Dec 30 '13 at 6:56
  • Why then does the umpire use the expression make a call? Why call? Dec 31 '13 at 1:30
  • 1
    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? 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. Dec 30 '13 at 14:26
  • 1
    Probably when the referees make decision, they CALL the players to be in front of them?? 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.

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