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It is such a common colloquialism that discussions of its origin is hard to find. But I assume that its a reference to how when boxing there is a tendency to protect the face leaving one's abdomen exposed. A gut check would be to throw a punch where someone isn't prepared to defend.

  • I've always assumed that it has to do with intuition -- what you "feel in your gut". – Hot Licks Jun 24 '18 at 22:18
  • is that how it’s used metaphorically? Out of any context I assumed it was more along the lines of “gut feel” : A quick gut check (checking with my gut to see if it agrees with me) doesn’t seem like it lines up with a punch thrown where someone isn’t prepared to defend. – Jim Jun 24 '18 at 22:21
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gut check definition TFD

a pause to assess

Etymology:

The notion of the intestines as a seat of emotions is ancient (see bowel) and probably explains expressions such as gut reaction (1963), gut feeling (by 1970), and compare guts. Gut check attested by 1976. etymonline

And Urban Dictionary alludes to U.S. Army and Tennis (racquet strings of cat gut)

My research finds no boxing origin.

  • Which strongly suggests you didn't box or pursue martial arts. A gut check is a sucker punch to the stomach to see how you handle it, often at the end of a sparing session when your guard is down. In martial arts, there is a similar "kiai check". Not saying it is the original thing, just that it is a thing. On Star Trek, the Kobayashi Maru was a gut check. TFD has this wrong. It is a test of resolve. – Phil Sweet Jun 25 '18 at 3:02
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Green's Dictionary of Slang suggest its origin is from sports, but doesn’t a specific one:

Gut-check (n.) [orig. sporting use] [1970s+] (US)

  • a quick reassessment of strategy and stiffening of morale.

while

The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English attests its usage a bit earlier, from the late ‘60s.

Gut check:

a test of courage or determination US — Fred Hester, Slang on the 40 Acres, p. 15, 1968 “

The UD says that it was originally an expression from tennis:

Gut check was originally a tennis term to describe a player pausing a moment to think about what just happened by closely examining and possibly adjusting his racquet strings. Back in the day strings were made of cat gut, commonly refered to as gut. This usually occurred after a great shot by an opponent. As with so many terms it has become popular to describe something very different.

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