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What Does It Mean to Reach "Fever Pitch"?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
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To reach “fever pitch” means to become very excited or agitated about something. The term is of unknown origin, but has gained in popularity in recent years. The term is usually used in media situations, especially concerning article titles. It is rarely used in everyday speech.

Pitch has an old English etymology, but in modern English, it has a number of meanings. These meanings include measuring sound, putting up a tent, to throw something and a place where sport is played. Several of these can be applied to “fever pitch.” As the exact origin of the term is unknown, most ideas concerning it are pure conjecture. There are, however, several indicators and hints of possible origins.

It is unknown when the two words were first collocated. Possible explanations include ‘throwing a fit’ morphing into “fever pitch” via ‘pitch a fit,’ using the throwing definition of the word. Other explanations concern writhing on the ground and are akin to a ‘fever on the pitch.’ The sound origin of pitch has led some to propose that a person gave out a ‘fevered pitch of agony’ when in pain.

The term, “fever pitch” is regularly included in newspaper headlines. It refers to excitement about a subject or the build up to an event. It is used with events such as the Super Bowl in American football, a meeting between two rivals and also for music events. It is also used to describe feverish gossip about certain celebrities.

“Fever Pitch” is the name of Nick Hornby’s debut novel in 1992. The book is about the author’s soccer experiences in the 1980s as a supporter of Arsenal Football Club. The title neatly combines the idea of ‘football fever’ as a passion of soccer in Britain and the soccer pitches where the game is played. In 1997, the book was turned into a movie starring Colin Firth.

In 2004, the Farrelly brothers took the premise of the movie adaptation and created their own movie called “Fever Pitch.” Soccer was replaced with baseball and London was replaced with Boston. The lead roles were played by Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. The subject matter put a neat twist on the word "pitch" by having it relate to a baseball pitch, but the storyline had to be continuously re-written as the Boston Red Sox outperformed expectations and went on to win the championship.

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