(1) OED states that "to drop the ball" is a North American idiom (probably makes more sense in baseball than in cricket), while the Cambridge Dictionary does not mark it as such. I believe, the expression is generally understood in Britain and nowadays used as well (correct me if I am wrong). Nevertheless, what would be the closest truly British analogue?

(2) What is the most idiomatic way of saying that one person made a mistake while another person failed to correct or mitigate it? Would it be normal to say

He dropped the ball, but you have not picked it up!

as a reproach?

  • The accepted answer addresses only the second item. Answers and comments concerning the first part are very welcome. Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 2:06

1 Answer 1


To answer (2): I don't think that extension of the metaphor is common. It sounds awkward. Also, if the metaphor does come from baseball, "picking it up" is better than not picking it up but the batter has already achieved a hit at that point—by picking the ball up you can perhaps prevent the situation from worsening but you aren't preventing it from developing in the first place.

I don't think there is a set way of saying what you mean, but something that sounds more natural would be:

He dropped the ball, and you didn't catch it!

This works two ways: Most obviously to catch [an error] is a common expression meaning to notice and correct someone's mistake, but also as an extension of the baseball metaphor—you "caught the ball" after the other person dropped it. There is ambiguity in the pronoun "it," which could refer to the fact of the other person dropping the ball as an event or could extend the metaphor by referring to the ball itself. (That extension is not the first thing people would think of, but if they did think of it they might appreciate how "catch it" works both ways.)

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