Saturday, 15 January 2011

Sporting etymologies (Part 1)

During England's resounding success in the Ashes I heard 'cricket' pronounced at least three different ways. The English 'cricket' and Geoff Boycott's 'creekitt', while the Australian 'cruckit' sounds more like the sound of the insect of that name.
I had been wondering about the etymology of the word and before long had unearthed the notes for another piece written from some years ago. This not only looked at the etymology of cricket but many other sports and games, reproduced here in alphabetical order.

archery - surely one of the oldest surviving trials of skill, it comes to English from the Latin arcuarius meaning 'of a bow'.

badminton - possibly the name with the best-known etymology, it comes from the Gloucestershire place name of Badminton, ironically more closely associated with equestrian events today. The game itself is held to have originated in ancient Greece, thereafter moving east across China and south to India, where it was known as Battledore and Shuttlecock (the bat and the shuttlecock).

baseball - the name explains the basic premise of the game, hitting a ball and then running around the bases. Considered the 'national sport' in the USA by 1856, its simplicity as a bat and ball game make it difficult to trace. However it does not seem to have been played in the Americas until the arrival of those of European descent, thus the game is a derivative of rounders.

billiards - is ultimately from Old French billard 'bent stick'. This is a clue to its origins for, as with all games played with a cue, it originated as an outdoor lawn game. A reference from 1340 shows a game played outdoors which appears to be reminiscent of both billiards and croquet, while the first indoor billiards table can be traced to the regin of Louis XI of France (1461-83). An engraving from a book published in 1710 shows two men playing billiards, however the 'sticks' depicted are bent and more reminiscent of miniature hockey sticks.

bowling and bowls - two similar sports (indoors and out) clearly associated with 'bowl', the verb describing the action when delivering the ball. Of course this raises the question as to which came first, the answer being uncertain, although we do know these ultimately come from 'ball', itself of Germanic descent from 'sphere, round'.

boxing - another ancient pastime, possibly the original 'sport' for it requires no equipment! The modern name is a Middle English word box, although the origins of this word are unknown.

chess - is derived from the Old French esches which means simply 'checks'.

cricket - and the subject which started the thought processes. Sadly the etymology of the word is completely unknown. Indeed even the earliest written reference, which mentions Prince Edward, son of Edward I, at Newenden in Kent in the year of 1301 playing a game known as creag. Clearly this could be the first syllable of 'cricket' but as we have no notion of what form this game took or what creag is telling us, we are none the wiser.

croquet - is thought to be a dialect form of the French crochet 'a little hook'.

curling - is first mentioned in print in 1620 in Perth, Scotland in the works of Henry Adamson. The noun comes from curl, describing the motion of the stone.

dominoes - the earliest dominoes were carved from ivory with inserts of ebony and clearly not only extremely valuable but also white with black spots, rather than the reverse colouring today. It's name is derived from the similarity to Venetian Carnival masks, these domini being white with black spots. In turn these were named after the French priests whose winter hoods were black on the outside and white inside. The word can be traced back to the Latin dominus 'lord, master'.

fencing - is one of the easiest to understand. It comes from the Old French defens 'defence' and was absorbed into Middle English as fens.

golf - few can not have heard that golf is an acronym standing for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden", it will come as not surprise to find there is not an element of truth in this suggestion. The origin of the term is uncertain, although there is a reference to a game kolf involving a small ball and a curved bat being played in the Netherlands in 1297.

gymnastics - is ultimately from the Greek gumno 'naked', for ancient Greek competitors were completely naked.

hockey - and the similar hurling are played with a curved stick and a ball. Despite the very different rules the object of both games is ostenibly the same as many other games which date back at least five thousand years - stone tablets depicting very obvious hockey-like games have been unearthed in the ancient city of Ur.

judo - is from the Japanese ju do 'soft way'.

lacrosse - a game originating with the native people of modern Canada, the name was coined by French settlers who called it (le jeu de) la cross '(the game of) the hooked stick'.

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