Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Sin Bin

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 30, 2013

With hockey season in full swing, certain sports idioms are being heard more and more often including sin bin. But the expression sin bin isn’t just a hockey term. In fact, it’s used in a number of sports. What exactly is a sin bin? A sin bin is a penalty box where players sit to serve the time of a given penalty. In Britain more recently, it also refers to a special unit on a separate site from a school that disruptive schoolchildren attend until they can be reintegrated into their normal classes.

On March 28, 2011 the South Wales Echo out of Cardiff published a sports story entitled, “Crusaders Run Into Dixon In Fine Form.” As brief as the story was, it still managed to use sin bin as a verb no fewer than three times. In this sentence:

The Welsh team trailed 22-0 at half-time after paying dear for having three players sin-binned in the first half.

In this sentence:

The first half was marred by an 18th-minute brawl that saw Crusaders duo Vince Mellars and Witt and Castleford’s Youngquest sin-binned.

And finally, in this sentence:

Crusaders were then reduced to 12 again in the 34th minute when full-back Schifcofske was sin-binned for throwing a spare ball onto the pitch in an apparent attempt to slow down play when the Tigers were in possession.

That’s a lot of sin-binning!

When Brian Mossop reported on a game in the Rugby League in his story “Ugly Side Of League Goes In Pairs” for the Sydney Morning Herald of June 29, 1982 he built excitement for readers by starting the article with this:

Two players were sent off, two were taken to hospital, two did time in the sin bin, and two biting incidents were reported as Rugby Leagues showed some of its uglier side in matches yesterday.

Shortly after that, he wrote:

At Endeavour Field referee Kevin Roberts ordered two props, Cronulla-Sutherland’s Dane Sorensen and South Sydney’s Gary Hambly, to the sin bin for 10 minutes after a second-half brawl.

Canadians have always loved their hockey and on January 4, 1964 the Ottawa Citizen shared sports news in a story entitled, “Penalties Galore, Even For Teams Not On The Ice.” The story dealt with a number of games, but when it came to reported on the hockey games in the Ontario Hockey League, readers were shocked to learn that the Morrisburg versus Lancaster game resulted in a league record total of 92 minutes in a game that ended 4 to 2. The last two sentences read:

Bob Tilley, picked up by Morrisburg from the folded Brockville team, was sentenced to a total of 21 minutes in the sin bin for various offences. Between penalties, Morrisburg made it tough on Lancaster goalie Don Grant, who stopped a total of 50 shots while playing an outstanding game.

A generation before that on March 31, 1939 the Windsor Daily Star reported on another hockey game in a story entitled, “Die-Hard Wings Tie It Up: Rangers Stick.” This game wasn’t just any hockey game. It was a battle between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the prize was the 1939 Stanley Cup! With almost 12,000 fans at the Detroit Olympia to cheer on both teams, all of the goals and eight of the penalties were packed into the first period, along with ninety percent of the action according to the reporter. Midway through the story, readers learned the following:

It was while the Wings rearguard was in the sin-bin that the Leafs got their only goal of the game to balance accounts. It was a typical Toronto power play that netted the counter. Four abreast, the visitors swept into Detroit territory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published reference to sin bin. Because it was used in 1939 with the expectation that the idiom would be understood, the term pre-dates 1939. That being said, the first modern hockey game was played on March 3, 1875. As the game evolved, so did the nature of penalties although Idiomation was unable to find an exact date when the penalty box was first used.

That being said, it would not be unreasonable to tag the use of the idiom sin bin to 1930, and if any of our readers has a date for when the first penalty box came to be in hockey, please share the link to that information with others by way of the comments below.

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