I tried to take a guess what the ‘pitched’ in ‘pitched battle,’ might mean, but I couldn’t think of a thing.<2013 “The Taliban insurgency never won a single, pitched battle with NATO forces.”—The Chronicle Herald (Halifax, Nova Scotia), 11 February>
PITCHED BATTLE: 1) (military) A large fight, or a battle in which both sides remain at fixed locations; a battle which has been planned, and of which the ground has been chosen beforehand, by both sides. 2) A fiercely waged battle or struggle of any kind between opposing forces; and angry fight or argument; an intense conflict. [[I don’t visualize #1 being applicable in modern times.]]
Note: In the military sense a ‘pitched battle’ is not a ‘running battle’ where the sides are constantly changing location. And it is not a chance encounter such as a hasty ‘skirmish.’
(Oxford English Dictionary, Wikipedia, Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus, Cambridge Idioms Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms)
OXFORD DICTIONARY OF IDIOMS
A PITCHED BATTLE: A fierce fight. Literally, a pitched battle is one fought on a predetermined ground (the pitch) as opposed to either a casual skirmish or a running battle.
[[The problem I find here is that the only meaning of ‘pitch’ that makes any sense at all is “an area of play in any other field game ((besides cricket)); the field, the ground.” This meaning, however, first appeared in print in 1895 – much too late (see quotes below) to have been used in the origin of ‘pitched battle.’]]
THE FACTS ON FILE DICTIONARY OF CLICHÉS
A PITCHED BATTLE: An intense fight. Originally a pitched battle meant a battle that had been planned beforehand, with the ground “pitched on,” that is, chosen, and opposing sides lined up in orderly fashion. The term was used to contrast it with a skirmish or chance encounter, and dates from about 1600. In time, however, it came to be used more loosely for any intense fight in which combatants are fiercely engaged.
[[“Pitched on” = chosen??? I wonder how they came up with this conclusion. None of the dictionaries I checked (OED, Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, . . . showed any relationship between ‘pitched’ and ‘chosen.’ However, I did find one definition of the verb ‘pitch’ that did make some sense. PITCH: “To put in a fixed or definite place or position; to situate, to place.” The opposing sides put their armies into position (seems to work).
THE FACTS ON FILE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS
PITCHED BATTLE: Pitched battles were first carefully planned, even gentlemanly, battles where the battleground was chosen beforehand and tents were pitched near it by the opposing armies at least several days before any fighting took place, they were called such as early as 1549, in contrast to skirmishes or chance encounters, but the term for a planned battle, where complete preparations have been made, came to mean a battle in which the opposing forces are completely and intensely engaged, this latter meaning more common today.
[[I don’t like the smell of ‘pitched’ in “pitched battle” coming from “pitched tents.” In any case the ‘pitch’ in ‘pitched tents’ means to fix and erect (a tent, pavilion, etc.) for the purpose of encampment.]]
I’m not thrilled with any of the above etymologies and I think they might have been better off saying “origin uncertain and then offering their guesses.
The following quotes are from the Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
________________________<circa 1616 “Have I not in a pitched battle heard loud 'larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets' clang?”—Taming of the Shrew (1623) by Shakespeare, Act i. Scene ii>
<1729 “Tis wrote from Tetuan, that the Natives and the Blacks had come to a pitched Battle, and that the Blacks were beaten Dublin Gazette (Ireland), 18 November, >
<1851 “The reappearance, on Friday, of the remnant of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill was the signal for a pitched battle which has raged ever since, and-will probably outlast a night or two more.”—Guardian (London), 19 March, page 13>
<1942 “He explained that by ‘battle’ he did not mean the British had stopped withdrawing and were fighting a pitched battle.”—Oakland Tribune (California), 15 January, page 2>
<1975 “A pitched battle in the North Chicago suburbs was easily the nation's costliest congressional race.”—Press-Telegram (Long Beach, California), 11 April, page 11>
<1990 “After months of anticipation and strategizing, abortion foes and abortion-rights advocates fought the first pitched battle today to win the hearts, minds and votes of Maryland lawmakers Washington Post (D. C.), 16 January>
<2001 “The Giants Colin Ward and London's Mikael Tjaliden decided to keep warm, by having a pitched battle on the ice, before being sent to the box to calm down.”—The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), 1 January>
<2007 “‘When you have a pitched battle going on in a city full of civilians, that is not in accordance with the Geneva Conventions,’ he said.”—AP Online, 12 May>
<2013 “Individuals on both sides of the row denied that it amounted to a pitched battle between long-term residents and more recent arrivals over house prices, . . .”—The Independent (London), 3 January>
Ken G – February 13, 2013