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In a league of our own

It’s still sporting English month here on the blog, but it’s not long till metaphor month kicks off in April, so now seems an appropriate time to think about the figurative uses of the word league.

Last year, Red Bull won the Hungarian Grand Prix just a week after Ferrari had dominated the German Grand Prix, leading Ferrari’s Felipe Masa to say ‘In Germany, we seemed to have the fastest car, and just a few days later Red Bull were in a different league to all the other teams’.

A few days ago, published an interview with British F1 driver Jenson Button, who drives for the McLaren team. In the course of the interview, Button ‘admitted McLaren is still not in the same league as Red Bull and Ferrari’.

Simple semantic analysis suggests that being in a different league must mean pretty much the same thing as not being in the same league. But it doesn’t. There’s a clue in the fact that Button ‘admitted’ not being in the same league.

If you’re not in the same league as someone else, then you’re a long way short of reaching their standard. And if someone is in a different league, then they are much better than whoever they are being compared to.

Both expressions allow for the fact that the stronger of the two might have other rivals. But if someone is in a league of their own, then they are so powerful that there is nobody who can compete with them.

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Stephen Bullon

1 Comment

  • There’s a rom-com movie called ‘She’s Out of My League’ (2010), in which – according to the blurb – ‘An average Joe meets the perfect woman’. And there are plenty of examples in the corpus for this expression, e.g.:
    ‘From the first time he meets her, Seth realises that she is way out of his league.’
    And not just referring to relationships, e.g.:
    ‘…the guy who wrote back to me with the words ” nice try ” when I applied for a job which was way out of my league’
    ‘…to look around the fabulous shoe and bag shops, although unfortunately they were all priced way out of my league!’

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