William Safire, “On Language: It Would Seem” (New York Times, Sept. 14, 2008)
When did the game [for game-changer] begin? I first tracked it to a logical source in sports. The Washington Post had a 1982 baseball reference: “Singleton hit his game-changer . . . fair by eight yards” and a decade later described football’s Desmond Howard as “a game-breaker and a game-changer.” But when I set that etymological Inspector Javert — Ben Zimmer of www.visualthesaurus.com — on the trail, he noted the adoption by business motivators of the sports metaphor, including a prescient 1995 reference in The Wall Street Journal to the Internet as “a real game-changer.” Casting a wider net, he came up with an origin beyond sport, in playing cards: The Atlanta Constitution’s “Bridge Forum” of June 29, 1930, frowned on attempts to improve the game of bridge: “Seldom are the game-changers idle.”
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