to spar over something

On CNN I just read the phrase “candidates spar over tax and other issues”. To spar over something is a new word for me and from the context given I take it, it means ‘to debate’, ‘to quarrel’? Yes, I know I could look it up in the dictionary and I’ll do that right now, I just wanted to share the fact that it’s the first time I come across this phrase. Thanks.[YSaerTTEW443543]

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As far as I can see it, ‘spar’ means ‘an unagressive fight’ in boxing: you imitate hard blows exchanging light ones instead to just keep fit and coordinated; simirarly, ‘spar over sth’ could mean to bandy words about in dispute (presumably not harmful ones in order not to damage your counterpart—but the entertainment is there). A kickabout stuff to me.

Hi Torsten

In its original form it conveys the idea of boxing without causing any particular harm. The expression ‘sparring partner’ is used in sport where two boxers practise boxing without either one wanting to defeat the other. And so in the figurative sense it suggests having a lively debate/ discussion. In the UK in the House of Commons every week the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have a regular ‘sparring session’ on a Wednesday called Prime Minister’s Question time, which critics describe as a Punch and Judy show. In political matters very often an interviewer will bring together two politicians who are known to hold strongly different views and describe them as ‘old sparring partners’ - in a strictly non-combative sense of course.

Hi Alan,

Thanks a lot for excellent explanation which I wouldn’t have been able to find in any dictionary.[YSaerTTEW443543]

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