The Sweet Spots: Bailiwick and Wheelhouse

The Bailiwick of Jersey (photo from Wikipedia)
The Bailiwick of Jersey (photo from Wikipedia)

BAILIWICK: “1. the office or jurisdiction of a bailiff;  2. a special domain” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

WHEELHOUSE: “an enclosed area on a boat or ship where a person stands to steer” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

[IN ONE’S WHEELHOUSE] “Baseball (of a pitch): within the zone that is most advantageous for a batter to hit a home run” –

Regular readers of Lexicide know what a grouchy, curmudgeonly bunch Lex and Otto can be. Nevertheless, we occasionally quit our grumping and play nice, and since the days are longer and the honeybees are aflit, we’re going to take a sojourn to the Channel Islands this month for bailiwick.

If you’ve never been (and I have not), the Channel Islands are picturesque (not picaresque!) storybook lands. They are also some of the last surviving bailiwicks in the world. A bailiwick is a territory presided over by a bailiff, a bailiff in this case being a magistrate who delivered and enforced summons and presided over the courts of the peasantry. In the United States, bailiff almost exclusively refers to the peace officers in courts who move prisoners around, but the word survives in its original form in Jersey, Guernsey, and the Channel Islands of Britain. The word has the same origins as bail (as the security you put up to gain your freedom while you await trial), but it does not share an etymology with bailey, as in the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales. In this case, the bailey is the fortress enclosure where the Old Bailey now stands. Both words, as with many English words in jurisprudence or military lexicography, come from the French.

So bailiwick as a description of your special dominion (of skill, knowledge, etc.) is self-evident. What about that other great buzzword du jourwheelhouse? Everyone knows a wheelhouse is the bridge or pilothouse of a boat, but it’s also a baseball term for a batter’s sweet spot – the space in the strike zone where he has the greatest hitting power. Ah, now the metaphor becomes even more appropriate! Unless, that is, everything is in your wheelhouse, an expression I’m hearing more and more (“SaaS cloud platforms are firmly in our wheelhouse, and so is Bauhaus architecture!”).

Because, you know, companies want to be all things to all customers. Just remember the wheelhouse is the sweet spot. Everything else you can hit (even if you shouldn’t) is your strike zone. Beyond that – well, let’s just say you only get three of them.

– Otto E. Mezzo

5 thoughts on “The Sweet Spots: Bailiwick and Wheelhouse”

  1. Thanks for the clarification. It came to me that the dictionaries, showing almost the same definitions for both words, might be wrong; and I decided to see if I could find a direct comparison. Lo and behold, your article. Good on ya, mate.

  2. One of my “peeves”, among many, is the misuse of forte and forte’. Perhaps this has been discussed before. I’m new to this site.


    Pete Kohnken

    1. You refer to pronouncing forte (from French) with an accented e (“fortay”), when that’s the Italian pronounciation, used in music to mean “loud”. There is no accent in the Italian, even though it’s pronounced like the French accent ague. So both the pronouncination of forte (strength) and the addition of the accent (to either) is a hypercorrection. This would make a good article. Stay tuned and thanks for the suggestion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *