Off Base – Meaning and Origin


If someone is “off base,” it means they are wrong or are mistaken about something.

Example: If you think I’m the one that broke that vase, you are off base! I never touched it.
Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Barking up the wrong tree

‘Off Base’ Origin

This phrase possibly originates from baseball. Bases are a big part of this sport. After a batter hits the ball, they run to first base with the goal of reaching the home plate, or fourth base. During the game, base runners that are already on a base can “steal” the next one by running to it. Before attempting this, though, a common thing runners do is position themselves a short distance away from the current plate they are on and closer to the plate they want to advance to. When a base runner is positioned in such a way, he is off base. This is risky because if the pitcher notices that the runner is far from a plate, he can quickly throw to the baseman on that plate, potentially resulting in an out for the runner.

Anyways, this saying goes back to at least the 19th century. For example, the Piqua Miami Helmet newspaper from the year 1880 uses this expression:

“Yet today he is almost peniless. I saw him last night on his semi-weekly spree. As he said ‘the old man was off his base again.’ I have seen him bet $50 on ‘faro’ when so drunk he could not see the cards.”

Example Sentence(s)

  • Tim did not know that milk had a lot of sugar in it. When he checked the nutrition label, he learned how off base he was.

Similar Example:

  • Do you think I’m the one who scratched your car? You are barking up the wrong tree if so.

Note: The origin of many common idioms and phrases are not clear. In cases like that, a theory on how or where it possibly originated from might be given. At the very least, there is usually a quote on the expression’s page that can give you an idea on how old it is. These quotes are typically the oldest known appearance of the phrase in print (that I could find).

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