1. Giving something your maximum effort; going all out.
Example: I don’t like being unemployed. I’d rather be working. So for the next few weeks, I’ll be swinging for the fences as I try to find a job. It shouldn’t be too hard, right?
2. A baseball term. It refers to a batter who’s trying to hit the ball as hard as possible, resulting in it going past the fences and out of the park.
Example: He’ll be stepping up to the plate and the only thing on his mind right now is to swing for the fences, as his team is in desperate need of a run right now.
The Origin Of ‘Swinging For The Fences’
This phrase originates from the sport of baseball. How so? Well, “swinging for the fences” refers to a batter who’s swinging at the ball. The batter is hoping to hit it (the ball) hard enough so that it goes flying past the fences on the edges of the outfield and straight into the audience. This would result in a home run for the batting team, as it would be impossible for the defensive team to catch or retrieve the ball.
While this phrase was originally used in the context of baseball, it eventually started to be used outside of the sport when referring to someone who’s giving their maximum effort at something.
It looks like this happened sometime during the 20th century, because the earliest I could find this expression in print is in the first half of the 20th century. All the recordings I’ve seen for it use it in connection to baseball. For example, the Sandusky Star Journal newspaper, printed in 1923, reads:
“Now the only thought of every batter is to swing his hardest. The home-run germ has even hit the pitches. No longer do the batters seek to outguess the opposition, trip up the infield, the one big thought is swing for the fences.”
- Jessica has been busy all week long, so she’s worried about passing an exam coming up at school. Even so, she will be swinging for the fences and hoping for the best.
- While Mike stood in his apartment and looked around, he suddenly came to the realization that his place looked boring. All of his walls were white and plain. He didn’t have anything hanging up on them, nor did he have any kind of decorations, and besides that, the only furniture he had was a bed, chair, and desk.
Thus, Mike decided to spend some of his savings on furniture and pictures. Yes, he’s gonna swing for the fences as he tries to add some personality to his living space.
Note: The origin for some common phrases and sayings are unknown. Because of this, what you’ll see listed in such cases are plausible theories for how the term came to exist. Additionally, the quotes you see that contain the saying are the oldest that I could find. Remember, though, that just because I quote a newspaper from say, 1850, this does not necessarily mean the phrase originated from that year or that source. The purpose of these old quotes is to give you an idea on how old the expression is.