What Does "below Par" Mean?

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  • Written By: Jim B.
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2019
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"Below par" is an English idiom used to describe someone who is not feeling as well as his or her usual standards. The phrase can also be used to describe a performance that is not up to the quality expected of it. This idiom gets his meaning from the fact that "par" is considered the standard performance by a player on a golf course and is thus the number against which all performances are measured. Ironically, someone who shoots "below par" in golf is actually performing well because it means that he or she has completed the hole in less than the required strokes.

An idiom is a saying or expression that may have meant one thing when it was first used but then takes on a figurative meaning after time and through common use in a culture. Idioms are useful when people are trying to add a little color and expressiveness to their word usage. The sports world, which has its own unique terminology to describe the action, is a common source for idioms. One of the best known sports-related idioms is "below par."

This idiom is often used to reference how someone is feeling. Those described in this manner are usually feeling either physically sick or emotionally depressed. As an example of how the idiom is used in this context, consider the sentence, "I'm in such pain that I can barely stand up right now, so I guess you could say I'm feeling below par."


Another way that this idiomatic expression is used is to describe a lackluster performance. "Par" is the implied standard for what one might expect from a task or chore, and anything failing to live up to that standard would fall below that level. For example, an employer might say to an employee, "You're going to have to do that all over again, because that work is really below par." Concerning this context, the idiom is another way of saying substandard.

In the sport of golf, "par" is the expected number of strokes that it should take the player to put the ball in the hole. While the idiom originates from this sport, its meaning on the golf course is the direct opposite of its figurative meaning. If a person shoots "below par" on a golf hole or for an entire round of golf, he or she has performed exceptionally well. The contrasting idiom is "above par," which is considered a good thing in everyday life but is a bad result on the golf course.


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