1. A boxing term. It refers to a boxer who unfairly strikes their opponent below the waist.
2. Saying something to another person that is considered inappropriate, insulting, or too personal.
Example: I accidentally bumped into someone while I was out shopping. Even though I quickly apologized, they still turned to me and shouted insults about my weight! That was a hit below the belt, a real low blow, but not wanting to escalate things, I ignored them and continued shopping.
The Origin Of ‘Hit Below The Belt’
Sometimes, a person might say something that’s described as being a “low blow,” or a “hit below the belt.” Typically what that means is that the person’s words were considered to be uncalled for, or unnecessary; the person crossed the line, perhaps getting too personal with what they said. How did this saying acquire such a meaning, and where does it come from?
Well, this expression likely comes from boxing, where it’s against the rules for boxers to hit their opponent anywhere below the belt area. Since this type of behavior is against the rules, if a boxer were to literally hit their opponent under the waist, such an action would be seen as inappropriate. Similarly, if a person’s words are seen as insulting or inappropriate, they can be described as figuratively hitting someone “below the belt.”
The earliest that I could find this expression is around the mid 19th century, and as the following quote shows, it was indeed a term used in fighting/boxing. This example is from the Bell’s Life In London And Sporting Chronicle newspaper, 1841:
“In the second round Smith, in the act of striking, stumbled forward, and his blew went below the belt of his antagonist.”
- Wilson was trying to lose weight but he was having a difficult time doing so. A friend of his made an insensitive joke about the situation, but Wilson did not like what his friend had said; he felt like the joke was a hit below the belt.
Note: The origins for many idioms and common phrases cannot be said with a certainty. Hence, in such cases, what you will see listed on a pages are theories as to how a phrase may have originated. In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means confirms that the phrase originates from said newspapers, poems, or books. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying and is from an older time.