I came across the following passage in September 17 “The Hill.” under the headline, “Trump says Kavanaugh may be delayed.”:

“If it takes a little delay it’ll take a little delay.” Trump told reporters at the White House. "I’m sure it will work out very well.” Trump batted down a reporter who asked if Kavanaugh should withdraw, calling it a “ridiculous question.”

I took “bat down” as “snub” or “shut out,” and consulted online dictionaries to make it sure, and found none of them including Oxford, Cambridge, and Collins Cobuild listed “bat down,” though they list “beat down,” “pat down,” “sat down,” and you can name it.

An online English / French dictionary translates “bat down” as “dėmolir.”

Google N gram shows that the use of “bat down” started in mid 19 century. It soared up in mid 20 century, dropped once, and regaining currency since 1990s.

I wonder exact meaning of “bat down,” and why the phrase is not shown in major dictionaries.


With JJJ’s edit, I’m a bit surprised to find the quoted paragraph was rewriten by the author in the latest version of the Hill, It goes now:

“When asked if Kavanaugh should withdraw, Trump said it was a “ridiculous question” but added that he has not spoken with the federal judge about the accusations. The phrase, “batted down” has gone.

I wonder why the author reworded the line in question and if he thought the use of “batted down” awkward or unsuitable to the context. What is your take on this rephrasing?

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    I think there is a mishearing or a transposition going on. 'Pat down' is idiomatic and conveys the searching of someone by use of the hands in a patting motion. 'Bat away' is the use of hands to swipe away, say a wasp or bee. I suspect the writer of the piece is mixing idioms, myself.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 18, 2018 at 1:36
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    This isn't an idiom, just a metaphorical use of bat in the meaning to strike with or as if with a bat.
    – choster
    Sep 18, 2018 at 4:37
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    @NigelJ I don't think there was any mis-hearing. "Bat down" is certainly familiar in British English - with a possible analogy to cricket, where hitting the ball into or along the ground means the batsman can't be out "caught", and is therefore safer than hitting the ball into the air.
    – alephzero
    Sep 18, 2018 at 9:37
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    "Bat down" is NOT an idiom, any more that "pull down" is. To "bat" is swing at something, attempting to hit it, and if you hit it and it comes "down" then you have batted it down.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 18, 2018 at 20:43
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    @YoichiOishi I totally disagree with the other naysayers here. 'to bat down' seems like a perfectly natural phrasal verb. "She batted down the lawyer's arguments", "When he went into the cave, he batted the spider webs down". I think the only real answer to your 'why' question is that dictionaries just aren't perfect. I don't see it in OED, but a cursory google search finds all sorts of its uses.
    – Mitch
    Sep 18, 2018 at 23:10

6 Answers 6


The expression doesn't come from baseball, but from the more general sense of "strike with a baton". When you "bat" something, you hit it with the palm of your hand, and generally without much concern where it goes, so long as it goes away from you.

If a question is "batted away" or "batted down", it is dismissed without much concern, or much grace.

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    I think this answer is correct—not least in replacing the odd wording "batting down a reporter" with the more idiomatically normal "batting down a question [from a reporter]." The image I have is of someone beset by large, slow-flying bugs that the person attempts to disperse by swatting at them, knocking to the ground the ones successfully struck.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 18, 2018 at 4:38
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    Yep, "bat down" is more or less synonymous with "bat away". It'd be useful to include a reference for "bat away", e.g. yourdictionary.com/bat-away; though I have to admit I prefer your definition to the one given by my reference!
    – AndyT
    Sep 18, 2018 at 9:00
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    I think the sense of batting down is ckearly metaphorical but directed more to the reporter rather than their question itself. That would fit with the impulsive reaction of the President at hearing such a disturbing request.
    – user 66974
    Sep 18, 2018 at 11:31
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    This answer is good. In English, we bat many, many things and they can be batted up, batted down, batted around, and probably some I can't think off. Bat down makes one think of a dog trying to get bits of food from a tabletop.
    – Lambie
    Sep 18, 2018 at 21:23
  • Yes, it's important to remember that the baseball bat was named after the verb "bat". Its name describes what it does.
    – user91988
    Sep 19, 2018 at 16:04

I think the real answer is that "bat down" is not listed as an idiom because it is a natural figurative phrase that uses the first verbal sense of bat defined in the OED:

To strike with, or as with, a bat; to cudgel, thrash, beat.

Because the word "bat" can be replaced with synonyms, the phrase functions more as a metaphor than an idiom.

Trump batted down a reporter['s question].

Trump swatted down a reporter['s question].

Trump struck down a reporter['s question].

If to bat down was an idiom, it would come with a bundle of synonymic idioms as shown above. Instead, any could be considered a figurative metaphor for dismissing the reporter's question.

Trump dismissed a reporter['s question].


the closest sounding idiom is batten down the hatches, but with an entirely different meaning. TFD

To bat down is not idiomatic ... it simply means to knock someone or something down as if with a bat, and in Trump's case it is figuratively done.

As in:

Trump dismissed/ knocked down (fig.) a reporter who asked if Kavanaugh should withdraw, calling it a “ridiculous question.”

  • 8
    That's only very loosely connected. When batten down the hatches, you fasten the hatches with a piece of wood called, of course, a batten, thereby rendering your watercraft more capable of weathering high seas. When "bat down" something, you strike it with a piece of wood called a "bat" or "baton". Etymologically, the words are all related, but the phrases have a very different history. Sep 18, 2018 at 1:23
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    @Malvolio noted and so edited.
    – lbf
    Sep 18, 2018 at 1:29
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    @Malvolio is being generous. The two terms are functionally unrelated.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 18, 2018 at 11:18
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    @T.E.D. Is being generous. The two terms are completely unrelated. Sep 18, 2018 at 17:43

The observation in this answer that "batted down" in the context of a reporter's question may echo a U.S. football expression—"batting down a forward pass"—finds some support in newspaper search results. The earliest "batting down" in the sense of "knocking down" a ball that I found in an Elephind search, however, involves a baseball player knocking down (but not catching) a bounding ball (what today would be called a bouncer, a grounder, or an infield chop) with his glove. From "Griffs Divide with Boston, 2–1 and 1–0," in the Washington Herald (July 7, 1921):

It was in the second inning that the Red Sox made their lucky run. Ruel, the first man up lined to Shanks. Mogridge knocked down Scott's bounder, but could not recover the ball and the runner was safe.He caught him off first a moment later on a quick throw to Judge, but Owens missed the play. Then Foster's bounder was batted down by Mogridge, who deflected the ball toward Harris for an easy play, but Owens was in the way and the ball hit him, thus making both runners safe.

But six years later we see football players getting into the act. From "Illinois Is in the Lead," in the DeKalb [Illinois] Daily Chronicle (October 29, 1927):

Heston went in for Nymand and Dumhoff for Hoffman. Humbert fumbled on the Michigan 35 yard line, and Gabel recovered for Michigan. Grange batted down Rich's pass. Miller's line plunge and pass were smothered. Miller punted to Mills who was thrown on Illinois 21 yard line.

The batting down becomes figurative in "Valley Water Hopes Dashed: Assembly Battles Sales Tax Plan," in the Madra [California] Tribune (July 20, 1933):

The rural controlled senate ruthlessly batted down vital amendments, one, by Senator Jones, would have exempted foodstuffs.

And again, in "Allies Contest Red and Blues in UR Election" in the [Richmond, Virginia] Collegian (October 23, 1942):

The two offices that will be contested at the polls on Thursday are those of senator-at-large and secretary of the Senior Class. Some mix-up was committed last week when it was announced that Senior Class treasurer was the office in question, The theory was batted down by Willard Burton who stubbornly declared that he was the Senior Class treasurer and had no Intention of resigning.

The first instance I found of someone batting down a question from a reporter features a 20-year-old Lauren Bacall in the role of batter. From Jay Carmody, "'Keys of the Kingdom' Promises Bright Future for G. Peck," in the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star (February 8, 1945):

Miss Bacall, draped in a breathless black dress, rises from her chair and slinks toward the door to retrieve an envelope that is edging its way into the room. (A Mr. Humphrey Bogart lives in a suite directly above Miss Bacall's.) The note is examined carefully and a slight frown crosses the actress's face. She bats down that unasked question with a slow blaze of words:

"And what's more, I intend to keep my private life private." The question shivers and hides behind a vase.

This selection of early literal and figurative instances of batting down doesn't do justice to the prevalence of football settings during the period (1921–1945) covered here; most occurrences of "batted down" involved that sport, even though the first such instance appeared only in 1927.

It may also bear noting that U.S. English speakers commonly use the kindred term "bat away" figuratively in similar settings involving someone warding off unwelcome questions. In U.S, football usage, "batting away" involves deflecting a forward pass away from its intended receiver in such a way that the ball goes upward or more or less horizontally for some distance before falling to the ground, whereas "batting down" implies swatting the ball more or less straight downward.

For example, my local newspaper today included an Associated Press story by Chad Day, "Trump Not Concerned About Manafort Cooperation," containing these paragraphs:

Trump told reporters at the White House that if Paul Manafort tells the truth to special counsel Robert Mueller's team then he doesn't see a problem. Trump also batted away a question whether he was considering a pardon for Manafort.

"I don't want to talk about it now," the president said.

The sense of the usage here is that Trump figuratively swatted away or deflected the unwelcome question.

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    @user22a6db72d7249: Thanks for clarifying this point. I have altered my wording to make it (I hope) more accurate.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 20, 2018 at 18:08

It looks like a variant on the more common "slap-down" (from Merriam Webster) which offers synonyms as:clamp down (on), crack down (on), crush, put down, quash, quell, repress, silence.

Slap- or, in this case, bat-down both emphasize the abruptness of the put-down which is indicated in the Merriam Webster definition of slap-down i.e.: to put an abrupt stop to.


The phrase "to bat down" is not necessarily an idiom of English. In fact, phrase has been removed from the originally cited article. It's possible the original source article was from this site, "Conservative Politics Today." The author of this article may not be a native English speaker, but it's hard to tell. The author, "Howard Roark," is probably a pseudonym since it's the same as the lead character in Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead.

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