What is the meaning and origin of ‘behind the eight ball’? (R.V. Nagesh, Hyderabad)
This expression is mostly used in American English in informal contexts. When you say that you are ‘behind the eight or 8 ball’, you are implying that you are in big trouble; you are in a difficult or a disadvantageous situation, one from which you are unlikely to escape. You feel doomed because you don’t see yourself finding a solution to the problem.
Poor Anita. She got COVID a month ago, and now she’s behind the eight ball with all her assignments.
If the company continues to spend money the way it’s doing now, it’ll soon find itself behind the eight ball.
Many of the idioms that we use in everyday contexts come from the world of sports. The same is true of the expression ‘behind the eight ball’; it comes from the world of pool or pocket billiards. The balls used to play these games are usually numbered. In one version of the game, a player has to pocket the balls sequentially — in other words, he is supposed to pocket the ball marked one first, and then two, and so on and so forth. The eight ball is to be pocketed last — and till such time, no player is allowed to touch it. If the cue ball touches the eight ball at any time, the player is penalised; and if a player accidentally pockets the eight ball before the other balls have been pocketed, he automatically loses the game. So, when a player finds the cue ball behind the eight ball, he is in serious trouble — he may find it difficult to make a shot without touching it.
The word consists of three syllables. The first sounds like the word ‘hi’, while the ‘a’ in the following syllable is pronounced like the ‘ay’ in ‘pay’, ‘hay’ and ‘say’. The ‘u’ sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The word is pronounced ‘hi-AY-tes’ with the stress on the second syllable. It comes from the Latin ‘hiatus’ meaning ‘opening’ or ‘gap’. Nowadays, the word is mostly used in formal contexts to mean ‘a break in an activity’ — a break which could be intentional or accidental. A hiatus suggests the complete suspension of an activity — the duration of which can vary from a few days to several years. A five-minute break from an activity cannot be considered a hiatus.
Kunthala returned to coaching after a five-year hiatus.
Padmini said that she was really enjoying her hiatus from teaching.
The simple answer to the question is yes — there is nothing grammatically wrong with the statement. The problem here is not one of grammar, but of usage. Dictionaries define ‘return’ as ‘to go back or come back’. In other words, ‘back’ is implied when we use ‘return’. It is for this reason that careful users of the language argue that ‘back ’is unnecessary in the sentence. It is redundant.
I returned the car to the dealer a month after I’d bought it.
I don’t want you to return the money. Keep it.
I think any kind of hiatus one takes in an artistic journey is going to make a huge difference.