The Game is Afoot

Meanings of “The Game is Afoot”

The phrase “the game is afoot” means something exciting has started or is about to start. It is also used when someone accepts a challenge while playing sports.

Origin of “The Game is Afoot”

The phrase “the game is afoot” is said to have originated from William Shakespeare’s famous play, King Henry IV Part I, published in 1597, where it is stated as; “Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.” Since then, the phrase has been used in the same way by various authors and poets.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

The Game Is Afoot: Parodies, Pastiches and Ponderings of Sherlock Holmes by Marvin Kaye

Marvin Kaye in his book, The Game Is Afoot: Parodies, Pastiches and Ponderings of Sherlock Holmes, presents a comprehensive collection of essays, parodies, pastiches, and academic examinations of Sherlock Holmes’s cases. The writer reveals the truths about Holmes’ exploits, involving some great figures such as Consuelo Vanderbilt, Ida Tarbell, McNeil Whistler, and P.G. Wodehouse. Related by diverse hands, the book unfolds the untold incidents of Titanic, Holmes’ rematch with Irene Adler, the childhoods of both Holmes and Watson, and one unfortunate result of Holmes’ facility with disguise. The phrase used in the title speaks about the hidden facts that lead to the exploitation of Holmes.

Example #2

Henry V by William Shakespeare

“Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

In this speech, King Henry rallies around his men to attack the city of Harfleur again, which they previously had placed under siege. To motivate his army, the king recollects their strength and praises their breeding. He further encourages them to serve as an example to men of common birth and show them how to fight for the noble cause. He believes in their noble birth, valor, and high-esteemed spirits. Therefore, he announces that the hunt is on and the ground is set for them to win the glory. The phrase has been used here as a metaphor to give strength to the army.

Example #3

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle

“The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face and told me at a glance that something was amiss. “Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’ Ten minutes later we were both in a cab and rattling through the silent streets on our way to Charing Cross Station.”

The speaker, Holmes, appears in a room with a candle in his hand and urges his friend, Watson to join him. While taking his friend along, the speaker utters the phrase carrying an implied meaning. It indicates that there is something exciting or mysterious is going on in the background. The anxious speaker wants his friend to get a quick pace as in ten minutes they are going to set off. Thus, the situation presented in the excerpt shows the connotative use of the phrase.

Example #4

221B by Vincent Starrett

“Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.”

The speaker says that the two men, Holmen and Watson, serve us comfort during rough times. Since the poem was written in the backdrop of WWII when England was struggling for its survival, the poet recalls the role they played during that time. While expressing his views about the past, the speaker uses the phrase to tell that witty spirits always sense the danger before it actually arrives.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “We should not ignore the striking game that seems afoot along the Ghaza’s northern border, the leader said.”

Example #2: “The army was deployed on the western borders with claims that a game is afoot so they should keep up their spirits.”

Example #3: “Still the game is afoot, therefore, India and China have expelled their appointed ministers.”

Example #4: “Sam and Tim never specifically described, but Tim often advises Sam to keep his service revolver with him when the game is afoot.”

Example #5: “If we don’t make a right move, we’re all going to suffer a strange fate! Can’t you see that the game is already afoot?”