winter olympic sports (part ii)

Last week, we looked at the bones of skatethe splinters of ski, and the unknowns of luge. This week, the Games continue with sleighcurling, and hockey


There is no reason for sleigh‘s spelling, I supposed, other than imitation of words like neighbor and weigh, whose –gh once were pronounced, unlike sleigh‘s. Sleigh is a North American English adaptation of the Dutch slee, from slede. Sled and sledge are related, connected to slide and slither, from the very Harry Potter-sounding Old English slidor

What about “bob”? In bobsled or bobsleigh, the element “bob” conveys “cutting short” and, as the Online Etymology Dictionary puts it, a “round, hanging mass,” from bobbe, meaning “cluster.” She sports a bob? Yep, this word for a short haircut is related and is attested as early as the late 1600s.


Weekley must have been a fan of the winter sports; he has been particularly illustrative for these selected games. On curling, he writes, “The game of curling is so called from the curving path of the stone, like that of a bowl.” The ODEE, among others, leaves open the possibility that curling indeed comes from curl. Curl itself is twisted from crulle, from the Middle Dutch krul, which the ODEE delivers back to the Germanic root, *krusl-.

This switching of sounds–here, the r and sounds–is known as metathesis, a fairly common phenomenon. We’ve seen it on the Mashed Radish before. A (needlessly contentious) example is the pronunciation of ask as ax (think aks and you might better understand the transposition). Geoffrey Chaucer did it, as you might have heard on this excellent NPR piece

According to the ODEE (and I’m talking here to you, Paul), this *krusl- root is related to the German kraus, meaning “curled” and thus figuratively “crabbed” or “sullen.” Some connect this to the surname Krause (which would explain a lot, my friend) whereas others trace the last name back to a German word for “jug” or “pitcher” (which would also explain a lot). Skeat proposes the root *krellan, meaning “to wind.”


H-E-double-hockey-sticks: that’s about the best we have for the origin for this king of ice sports. The word has an isolated reference in the Galway Statutes in 1527: “The horlinge of the litill ball with hockie stickes or staves.” The ODEE speculates that hockie may be used for “hooky,” or hooked.

Then, on November 5, 1785, William Cowper, English poet who sang of the everyday countryside in every language, grudgingly yet lovingly wrote of hockey:

The boys at Olney have likewise a very entertaining sport. They call it Hockey; and it consists in dashing each other with mud, and the windows also, so that I am forced to rise now and then, and to threaten them with a horsewhip to preserve our own. We know that Roman boys whipped tops, trundled the hoop, and played at tennis; but I believe we nowhere read that they delighted in these filthy aspersions: I am inclined, therefore, to give to the slovenly but ingenious youths of Olney full credit for the invention. (p. 184)

Cowper was writing to John Newton, the famed clergyman and converted abolitionist who wrote “Amazing Grace,” in the small town of Olney in Buckinhamshire in southeasterly England.

Attempts have been made to connect “hockey” to the French hoqueta shepherd’s staff or crook, diminutive of hoc, or “hook,” but the the ODEE body-checks this. Skeat passes the puck to hockey, first attested as hawkey, as descring the L-shaped “hooked stick” used in the game. Partridge directs us to compare this sense development to that of cricket, originating in crook and croc, the hooked instrument used for the game.

As far these etymological Olympics are concerned, I think William Cowper wins the gold, with the Dutch language securing the silver. Bronze? Let’s put bob on the platform.

m ∫ r ∫


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