It’s very sticky

Major Walter Clopton Wingfield

I discovered (via Inky Fool) an alternative word for tennis today – sphairistike [sfɛəˈrɪstɪkɪ], which sounds a bit like the phrase ‘it’s very sticky’. This was the name coined by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield (pictured right), who invented (lawn) tennis in 1873, and it comes from the Greek σϕαιριστική (sfairistiké), or ‘(skill) in playing at ball’ or ‘sphere-tech’.

Before then the word tennis, which comes from the French word tenez (hold), referred to a game played in an enclosed court – a game now known as Real Tennis.

Strangely the word sphairistike never really caught on, and everyone began referring to the game a tennis or lawn tennis.

A related word is sphairistic (adj) = tennis playing.

Do you know of any other obscure or obsolete terms for popular sports?

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Greek, Language.

2 Responses to It’s very sticky

  1. Laurits says:

    I recently discovered that the Greek word for football is ποδόσφαιρο i.e. podosphere, which I somehow find very pleasing.

  2. David Eger says:

    Not a sport, but along similar lines to the above, the traditional foot percussion used in Quebecois music (a bit like tap dancing whilst sitting down) is known as ‘podorhythmie’. Why they chose to used a Greek-based word for it, I don’t know. ‘Batte-pieds’ would have done. Perhaps there is a sense that giving something name base on a classical language affords it more credibility.

    Interesting that, in English, the word ‘sphere’ is reserved for scientific an mathematical senses, and certain figurative senses. Yet ‘ball’ is connected with Greek ‘ballein’ – to throw.