Meanings: “Clinch”

October 30, 2013

clinker builtThe Red Sox can clinch the world championship tonight if they win tonight’s game. I’ve heard that via several news sources — print, TV, radio,web —  already this morning. Since they won their two recent World Series championships on the road, this would/will be the first they clinch at home in more than a century.

“Clinch” is a variant of “clench,” which comes from an Old English word meaning “hold fast.” From we have this:

clinch (v.) Look up clinch at

1560s, “clasp, interlock,” especially with a bent nail, variant of clench. The sense of “settle decisively” is first recorded 1716, from the notion of “clinching” the point of a nail to keep it fast. Boxing sense is from 1860. Related: Clinched; clinching.

Note the image of a bent nail: bent to make it hold fast. So in boat building, one speaks of a clinker-built boat. Sometimes you don’t want to bend a nail in driving it in, but sometimes you do, to make it hold even better.  Mentioned in the derivation is the boxing use, but not the use in other sports

During a regular season, in many sports, we speak of a team clinching the title when no other team can catch them by the end of the season: say a team has won two more games than its trailing opponent with only one to play. There will still be games played, but the team has clinched the title. They’ll have such a hold on the title that no one can wrest it from them, no matter what happens in the remaining games.

I’m not sure it is right to say that Boston might/will “clinch” the championship tonight. They might/will “win” it. But if they do, there will be no more games to play. “Clinching” makes sense when there are still more games to play, but not when they might/will walk off the field tonight as World Champions.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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