“Follow-On” (adj.)

A few days after the Paris terrorist attacks, Dina Temple-Raston of NPR reported that French authorities “were very focused on trying to abort a second attack. And they’re worried another one, a follow-on attack, will happen.” That night, I heard Rachel Maddow use “follow-on” the same way in her MSNBC broadcast.

Not being familiar with the term, I looked it up in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and found this definition: “being or relating to something that follows as a natural or logical consequence, development, or progression.” It would seem a useful term, but the origins are murky. The OED reveals a cricket etymology for “follow on,” starting as a verb referring to a side that “go[es]  in again at once after completing the first innings, in consequence of having made a prescribed number of runs less than their opponents in the first innings.” (I can only assume that that sentence makes sense.)  The dictionary quotes an 1865 cricketers’ guide: “Surrey ‘followed on’, but left only 23 runs for Oxford to get to win.”

The first non-cricket use cited by the OED is from a 1960 advertisement in “Farmer & Stockbreeder”: “This new booklet contains advice about ‘follow-on’ feeding.” Not sure what “follow-on feeding” would be, or how it followed (no pun intended) from the cricket term.

Non-cricket “follow-on” was subsequently picked up in various contexts, maybe most commonly in the business term “follow-on effect.” I feel that it’s mainly been a Britishism, but at this point I am unable to say for sure. I can report, however, that the the majority of the results in a Google News search for “follow-on effect” are from Australian sources.



22 thoughts on ““Follow-On” (adj.)

  1. “Follow-on” is used very commonly in the Commonwealth universe. Follow-on milk is formula for older toddlers, for instance.

  2. Rough translation. If a side batting second fails to reach a number of runs close to the number of runs made by the side batting first then they (the batsmen in the second side) are obliged to continue batting (i.e. follow on); usually after an interval for tea and scones. There’s almost certainly an arcane rule that determines what the cut-off point is however I neither know nor care what it is.

    …“follow-on feeding”…
    Probably immediately post weaning. Following on from mother’s milk.

    1. If a side fails to get within 200 runs of the other side’s first innings score, the leading side can enforce the follow-on and make them bat again (usually in the hope of dismissing them cheaply a second time, thereby gaining an innings victory). Note that the follow-on is not mandatory; it is at the discretion of the leading side, who may simply choose to bat again as normal.

      1. It is considered fairly devilish NOT to enforce the follow-on when your batsmen are in particularly fine form, as you can build up a huge lead (in terms of runs). If you DO enforce the follow-on, you risk tiring out your side in the field, should your opponents suddenly find a good second wind.

  3. Decades ago, for no reason, when I knew something, I thought that it was common knowledge, that everybody knew it. “Follow-on” to me is /very/ familiar, but I can’t say why.

    1. My first sentence, coming directly from my aging brain unedited, was poorly constructed. It might better have read, “Decades ago when I knew something, I thought for no reason that it was common knowledge, that everybody knew it.”

      1. Overnight gestation is typically sufficient for perfect recall but this took nearly a year and was prompted only by another’s reply to this entry in the blog. I know exactly why “follow-on” is familiar to me. Having worked for 39 years in operating systems development it was always on a new or follow-on release of the OS. There, got it.

  4. The cricket term works like this.
    In cricket, both teams bat twice. One team bats and then the other one bats:
    Team A – Team B – Team A – Team B.
    Imagine that Team A hits a massive score, say 500. Then Team B only hits 100. It’s extremely unlikely that Team B can win the game. In that case, the order is changed, and Team B’s second chance to bat follows on from their first one. The order now becomes:
    Team A – Team B – Team B – Team A.
    If Team B then hit say 350, their combined score is 100 + 350. This is still lower than Team A’s 500, so Team A doesn’t need to bat again. Team A have won and the game ends.
    The follow-on is a way of ensuring that a game ends quickly.

    1. And also, I think, a way of forcing a result, of avoiding a draw. If Team A has scored a bucketful of runs and Team B has made a decent fist of their innings but is still 200 behind, there may not be enough time left for both Team A and Team B to complete their second innings, and Team B might be able to hold out for a draw. Enforcing the follow-on helps avoid that risk.

  5. I was going to comment on ‘follow on’ in a cricketing context but cannot improve on what A S has posted.
    As cricket is really just a more complicated version of baseball Americans attempting to understand cricket should start by looking at the rules of their national game and taking it from there.
    (I write this in Guildford, Surrey, UK which has the distinction of being the venue of the first documented game of baseball in 1750)

      1. Just Google ‘Baseball Guildford’ for details. A game resembling baseball and cricket must have been played in England long before that but the 1750 match in Guildford was the first to be mentioned in print

    1. And, of course, baseball is mentioned in Northanger Abbey. If they play it in Jane Austen, the game must be British!

      Just googled “baseball Guildford”. I didn’t even know that Guildford had a baseball team! Even if they do seem to be lacking a place to play.

  6. I continue to be amazed at what can be learned from Ben’s site… Cricket is starting be understandable to me now!
    As far as “Follow-on” is concerned, I can’t remember seeing the expression much in print. I have heard it many times in speech but more often as {Following on (from this)} often during lectures, when I was a student, when a lecturer was discussing complications or consequences of a particular process.

    1. Having watched both cricket baseball (and having played, not very well, cricket at school, the dynamics of the two games are quite different.

      Despite cricket’s reputation, the first time I saw baseball on television, I found it much the slower game. The game had gone on an hour without anyone scoring. In a one-day cricket game you could have scored a hundred runs in an hour, and even in a five-day test, nobody scoring for an hour would be quite unusual.

      It took me many games to get the idea.

  7. Sorry to be so late on this, but follow-on has been accepted use on Wall Street for many years to refer to a company’s sale of stock AFTER its IPO. I don’t believe it was used much, if at all, 20 or 30 years ago, but bankers, analysts and reporters use it now.


    Andrew Feinberg CJA Partners, LP 333 E. 57th St., Apt 5A New York, NY 10022 212-755-8756 212-755-7634 (fax) 917-734-7917 (cel) afeinberg@cjapartners.com

  8. Late to the party here, but I’m surprised to hear this labeled as a Britishism. “Follow-on” is very commonly used in US military jargon, especially in the term “follow-on training” which refers to specialized training which comes on the heels of more general training. It’s such a common phrase, it’s often just referred to by the acronym ‘FOT’.

  9. It may (or may not) be of interest to learn that “enforcing the follow-on” – that is asking “team b” to bat again, in the circumstances described above, is going out of fashion in cricket. For various reasons, draws are becoming less common in cricket so the need to force a follow-on as a means of saving time is less important.

    British English is such a minefield of cricket phrases I do wonder how non-Commonwealth cope. “hit for six”, “googly”, “sticky wicket”, “close of play”… loads of them.

    1. The Australian cricket team are particularly reluctant to enforce the follow-on, because of a famous cricket Test in 2001 between Australia and India in Kolkata, in which the innings scores were as follows:

      Australia first innings: 445
      India first innings: 171
      India second innings (having been asked to follow on): 657
      Australia second innings: 212

      Despite having been asked to follow on, India won the Test by 171 runs – and this has made Australia reluctant to enforce the follow-on in similar situations.

      For the avoidance of doubt, I should also add that the follow-on rule only apply to two-innings matches, not 50- or 20-over per sides matches (ODIs and T20s); and that the follow-on value depends on the number of days played. In a four-day two-innings match, the follow-on target is only 150 runs.

      Similarly, in a five-day Test, if there is no play on the first day due to rain or bad light, the follow-on value is reduced to 150 runs – but, play having commenced, if play is lost for any subsequent day the follow-on value is not reduced further.

      I hope that simplifies everything 🙂

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