June 9, 2024 at 9:31 am

Why Do We Tell People We’ll Take A “Rain Check”

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

There are so many interesting turns of phrase in the English language.

Most of the time we don’t stop and think about where they come from or why we use them, but etymology can be super interesting.

So, why do we offer or accept a “rain check” when we have to cancel plans?

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term rain check was coined in the 1880’s, when baseball teams needed a system to make sure customers who paid for outdoor seating to a rained-out game could get a replacement ticket.

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Management issued ticket-holders “rain checks,” which just promised them a ticket to a future game.

There was some confusion at first, according to an 1887 edition of the Detroit Free Press.

“When the gates were opened yesterday a man was stationed at each turnstile with a handful of rain checks, which they handed to each person who entered. A number of persons, probably supposing they were patent medicine ads, refused to take them. The management, hoping but not knowing that the grounds could be gotten into shape, decided to issue these rain checks. Immediately on the announcement of no game a number or persons rushed to the ticket office and demanded rain checks, saying they had not received them.”

Baseball fans caught on soon enough, and soon, the turn of phrase had leapt from the field and into every day life.

Like in 1975, at a New York housewares store called Zabar’s.

They created a frenzy by offering a Cuisinart food processor for $135 – $55 cheaper than the normal $190 retail price.

They sold out immediately but issued rain checks promising the $135 price when the item restocked.

Source: Shutterstock

It has now become synonymous with a promise to make good on a product, price, or event that cannot be currently obtained or attended.

From the late 1800’s until now, “rain check” has been used to politely bow out of a personal obligation – with a promise to reschedule –  as well.

Nice to know the phrase is as American as, well, baseball.

If you enjoyed that story, check out what happened when a guy gave ChatGPT $100 to make as money as possible, and it turned out exactly how you would expect.