Episode 122: The Name of the Game

In 1363, the king of England tried to ban all sports other than archery in order to ensure English supremacy with the longbow. The ban had little effect, however, as the people of England continued to play ball games and board games. In this episode, we explore how terms associated with games and sports shaped the English language, and we also examine the gaming references in Geoffrey Chaucer’s first original poem.


18 thoughts on “Episode 122: The Name of the Game

  1. Thanks for another great episode! Regarding ‘at sixes and sevens’, it is used today in another way in the sport of rugby league, a form of rugby popular in eastern Australia, northern England and the Pacific. In rugby league, there are 13 players on each team, and if a team is at sixes and sevens, it means they are poorly organised or powerless to stop the other team in defence and/or create a favourable situation in attack. The literal meaning is that they are bunched into one group of six players and another group of seven players rather than the players being more evenly and optimally distributed across the width of the field. I often wondered if this phrase originated with rugby league, but evidently not!

  2. I would imagine that Chaucer’s description of the death of Blanche as a queen lost in a chess game must have been viewed as heretical or at least irreverent to the established Christian faith of the time.

    • I don’t know. I didn’t come across any Christian backlash in my research. The Book of the Duchess was a courtly poem for a courtly audience, and those poems tended to focus on love and romance rather than Biblical matters. They could also be risqué. So I doubt the Church was too concerned with them. I should also note that Chaucer routinely curses by taking God’s name in vain (“By god,” etc.). He does it in this poem and others. That would have been considered unacceptable in religious poetry, but was routine for Chaucer.

  3. Hi. I really liked your description of the game “handicap.” I’d love a reference or link so that I can share the game with friends. Does anyone have something to point to?

  4. YAGE! (Yet Another Great Episode). We hear “The money in the cap is a random amount of money.” Of course what’s meant is not random in the sense of “without method or conscious decision” but random in the modern sense of “unspecified”. There’s a discussion for a later episode 🙂 Anyway, can anyone comment on how the amount would’ve been determined? Presumably proportional to the value of the transaction?

    • Unfortunately, my research did not reveal how the cap amount was determined. Presumably, the three parties agreed to a token amount.

  5. Kevin, so disappointed. Football, golf, etc and you miss the great English sport of cricket ?. Being English and a great follower of the now international sport of cricket. Indeed a sport where it’s equivalent of the World Series does actually feature nations from all over the globe, you may care to look into the origins of that sport which are also believed to be in the Middle Ages. Thanks for the podcast, excellent as always.

    • Actually, I didn’t forget about cricket. It was originally on my list of sports to explore, but it appears that the origin of the sport lies in southeastern England in the 1500s (though it may have derived from earlier games or sports). The word ‘cricket’ is first attested in the late 1500s. Since I’m focusing on the mid to late 1300s, I decided not to include it here. Glad you’re enjoying the podcast!

  6. I wanna more old norse influence hehe and more simple things to hear i cant understand a bunch of words you say by the way take a look at this text its written in old english and its called Ælfric’s Colloquy you think you find it pretty interesting if you havent read it thus far.

    • Hi Ellie. AC/DC is actually an acronym for the electrical term “alternating current/direct current.’ The abbreviation first appeared in the late 1800s.

  7. BTW,
    Started the podcast AGAIN recently, now on Episode 12.
    The podcast is incredible and I have suggested it to many friends. It’s their loss if they elect not to listen!!!

  8. Thank you as ever Kevin for such a wonderful podcast. This was a very interesting episode (although mind you, they all are!).
    As regards the origin of “At 6s & 7s” I had always been told it’s to do with the City of London livery companies. Apparently when a new Lord Mayor is sworn in they parade behind him in order of seniority but between the Merchant Taylors & the Skinners there was an interminable dispute over which was older; one was sixth & one seventh. In the end one Lord Mayor settled it by saying they would swap around each year so take it in turns to have precedence.
    I have a friend who gives (excellent) talks on the origins of phrases & this is one of his stock tales. I shall have to disabuse him next time!
    Thanks again.

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