Usage: Chick Hearn's "No harm, no foul."


At the 101st birthday (Nov. 27) of sports' jazziest announcer, I take the opportunity to support the late Chick Hearn's legacy with a correction. His classic "No harm, no foul" is almost always misused by others.

The Grammarist website reports that the Hartford Courant first employed "No harm, no foul" in 1956 to describe a situation where a basketball official refrained from calling a foul because the transgression was insufficient to affect the outcome of the game. No – unless one team is ahead by 30 points with half a minute to play, a foul always affects the outcome of the game.

The Grammarist goes on to nominate the earlier street complaint "No blood, no foul" as the origin for the phrase, and that's how Hearn, who began broadcasting in 1957, used it – sarcastically, to criticize the officiating. He often filled out the comment as "No harm, no foul, no blood, no ambulance," clarifying that although the foul was obvious and severe, the idiot official would not have called it unless it resulted in a trip to the hospital.

Today, every slang dictionary wrongly considers "No harm, no foul" a valid response to an apology such as "I'm sorry I didn't give you a separate salad fork" or "I'm sorry I called you Greg instead of Gregory." The right reply here is simply "No foul," since adding "harm" would be redundant or ridiculous.

Chick Hearn regularly criticized officiating:

* He might amplify on "No harm, no foul" with "Malone hurls Kareem to the floor, but there's no harm - he landed on his wallet."

* The opposite of "no harm," a "ticky-tack" foul described an oversensitive call in an instance of minimal contact.

* A "cosmetic" foul indicated a "makeup," when officials knew they'd blown a previous call and tried to balance the books by enforcing a borderline infraction against the other team.

"Shaq throws up a brick." "Byron shoots an airball." "Magic fakes Isiah into the popcorn machine." Hearn's coinages, many of them quickly drafted into the public domain, made basketball ten times more fun.

I used to think I lost interest in basketball because big men dominated too much, or because the Lakers started to lose, or because Kobe was a dick. But now I understand the main reason: After 2002, no more Chick Hearn. Quote him right.