Rain check meaning and origin story

Whenever you are invited and you say, “I’ll take a rain check” what you are saying is you want to beg off the invitation for whatever reason you may have but with a promise that you will accept an invitation in the future. You might be wondering how this expression came to be. How does “rain check” factor into turning down invitations when there is no rain at all (if you are to take it literally)?

Its origin lies in Baseball

“Rain check” has its origins from baseball considered America’s greatest pastime since its creation in the mid-19th century. This game has always been played outdoors, almost all year round (it is not played during winter). It is popular not only to those who play the game, but also to those who watch it which is why baseball games are attended by many people from Little League to Major League. They pay tickets to see their favorite teams and players give their all on the field. Since it is played outdoors, baseball games are susceptible to the elements, particularly rain. If it rains very hard, it is very likely the games will be postponed or cancelled since there is no telling when it will stop. It is beyond the control of the organizers and nothing can be done about it.

Incidents like these not only disrupt the playing calendar of the games which may lead to postponements, but also cause a great inconvenience to people who came to watch the games. Not only do they fail to watch the games but they feel their hard-earned money to buy tickets are wasted, no thanks to bad weather. The trouble is nobody can predict the weather in those early years. Even in this day and age of weather forecasting, baseball games can still get cancelled when the weather suddenly turns bad.

In order to address this problem and to ensure people will not dismayed by this inconvenience, baseball clubs would issue return tickets whenever games are rained out. These tickets have “RAIN CHECK” stamped and these entitle the bearer for admission to games rescheduled or postponed due to the rain. During those times, not all clubs issued rain checks. By 1890, the National Baseball League (later to become the National League under Major League Baseball), institutionalized this practice. This is the reason why you may notice a “rain check” clause in the terms and conditions of baseball games. To this day, whenever baseball games are rained out or cancelled due to bad weather, spectators are assured they will get free admission in future games so as long as they present their “rain check.” This helps assuage their inconvenience and make them happy in the long run and keep them coming.

It Has Become a Universal Expression

While taking a “rain check” has its origins in baseball, it would not be long it would be used outside the context of baseball like any other expression when people would use this expression in non-baseball situations because they somehow associate or relate it to baseball.

For instance, in some stores, when they are out of stock on certain items a customer seeks, the store would issue a “rain check” to ensure the customer will acquire the item once it is on stock again at the same price. This will ensure that customers will continue patronizing the establishment. This gives the impression the business cares so much for its customers that it will do everything in its power to ensure they are always satisfied. They know fully well what happens if they fail to satisfy their customers if they are always out of stock and fail to replenish their inventory.

The expression has also found its way to the personal level. Whenever we have to turn down or beg off from invitations for whatever reason we might have, we often invoke “I’ll take a rain check” as a polite way of declining so as not to hurt the feelings of the ones inviting. The caveat here is that if you are going to use this expression, you are saying it with the assurance you will make it up to them by accepting an invitation in the future. This is especially true if the person inviting knows the meaning and connotation of the expression. This is why you should not use it loosely, especially if you cannot make it up to them.

So in closing, if you are going to “take a rain check,” be sure you will make it up to them in the future the next time they invite you.