Backed against a wall – Cornered - Facing long odds - Drawing an inside straight - Up a creek without a paddle - Behind the eight ball…all of these phrases denote the same meaning–“you cant get to where you need to go."
The last phrase is an especially visual one if you are even slightly acquainted with the game of pool or billiards. Some say that it derives from the Eight Ball version of the game of pool. The balls are numbered and must be potted in order. A turn is forfeited if a player's cue ball hits the (black) eight ball first and the game is forfeited if the eight ball is potted by mistake.
Picture yourself about to win. You’ve got only one ball left (apart from the eight, which is supposed to be the last one because it's neither stripes nor spots.) But the eight ball is between you and your ball and there’s no way to pot your own ball without dropping the eight ball. A very difficult position, wouldn’t you agree?
The phrase dates from the early 20th century - the earliest citation is from the Wisconsin newspaper The Sheboygan Press, December 1929:
"Bill ['Lucky' Bill McKechnie, manager of the Boston Braves] figures he can finish behind the eight ball with any kind of a ball team, so there's no harm in trying out young talent as there's nothing to lose beyond last place."
'Behind The Eight Ball' was used in the title of a biography of 'Minnesota Fats' - the stage name of the pool player Rudolph Wanderone. Rudolph was purported to be more of a self-publicist than a pool shark.
So, what recourse does a person have whenever they find themselves in this position? My first course of action is to be still. Because I view life with an objective point of view, I always anticipate finding more than one way to solve a dilemma. Pausing to examine the situation, viewing it from a variety of prospective, usually reveals a way around. Usually.
Then there are those time you just have to pop the eight ball in the pocket and go on with the game of life.
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