I found an article titled “The Schadenfreude Sports Fan” in today’s (June 23) New York Times followed by the lead copy:

“Figuring out which teams to root against is a nuanced and delicate matter.”

Though "root against"seems to mean "smashing down somebody, something," I'm not sure. So I checked on Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries. None of them registers “root against” as an idiom, though they register root around (for / through/ out) as the idioms meaning scratch around, or terminating.

I also found many instances of using “root against” in sports related articles, e.g.;

-Figuring out which teams to root against is a nuanced and delicate matter.–New York Times.

-Because you root against the Yankees harder in October than you do the other 11 months.-Sport Illustrated.

-Only mean-spirited people root against Tim Tebow: The hate makes little sports sense- Culturemap Houston.

Google Ngram also shows the trend of continued increase of usage of the words “root against” since 1880 after bottoming out during ca. 1960 -1900.

What does “root against something” mean? Is it only used for sports related context? Isn’t it a "generic" idiom as against "sports speciffic expression"

  • 2
    To root against something means to hope or cheer for it's failure. It is commonly used in sports, but it is used in other contexts as well, especially anything involving competition (e.g. politics or business).
    – Cameron
    Jun 23 '12 at 6:57
  • Yea. I forgot that I’ve read recently that President Obama’s campaign manager commented that Mitt Romney wishes to root for the failure of Obama’s stimulus plans. My bad memory!
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Jun 23 '12 at 7:51
  • Erm, its failure, sorry. Overzealous fingers.
    – Cameron
    Jun 23 '12 at 9:04
  • @Cameron. What does 'overzealous fingers' mean?
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Jun 23 '12 at 12:10
  • It was a joke suggesting that the extra apostrophe in my first comment (it's should have been its) was due to my fingers hitting the keyboard a little too enthusiastically.
    – Cameron
    Jun 24 '12 at 5:35

You can root for someone or something, and you can root someone on, too.

So “rooting against” is the opposite of rooting for.


Due to @Brendon’s request, the OED’s root v.2 has these two applicable subsenses for sense 4:

  • 4a. intr. To cheer for or lend support to a person or group, esp. a sports team; to wish for a person or group's success in a particular endeavour. Chiefly with for.

  • 4b. trans. To cheer or urge (a person, team, etc.) on.

But that’s nothing: just wait till you get a gander of the citations under its distinctly antipodean sense 6. :)

  • 2
    I don't have time to do anything but comment right now, but it would be exceedingly helpful to provide a definition of what rooting means in a sports context, since that is the essence of the question.
    – Brendon
    Jun 23 '12 at 1:01
  • @Brendon Any sort of general reference dictionary should have a definition for to root for.
    – tchrist
    Jun 23 '12 at 2:42
  • Note that this particular use of "root" is not well known in Australia (and will earn you some funny looks, because root has a rather vulgar meaning when used as a verb in that country.) The word used in place of root is "barrack," and it's a near-perfect synonym; If you ask an Australian which team he or she barracks for, you'll be immediately understood.
    – user867
    Sep 18 '14 at 7:02
  • In Britain we don't root for and definitely not against anything. The phrase is probably only used regularly in the US. Nov 12 '15 at 13:36

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