Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Word of the Day: Sphairistike


My eyes lit upon a genuine old Sphairistike racquet. I couldn't block my involuntary exclamation. Jane looked puzzled.

'That? I thought it was an old tennis racquet--'

I sighed. People really hurt my feelings sometimes. 'Once upon a time, love, a retired major invented a game for playing on the croquet lawn. He invented a name, too. Sphairistike. It's called tennis now.'
That's a passage from "The Firefly Gadroon," one of Jonathan Gash's (the pen name of the English doctor John Grant) Lovejoy novels, a series about a crooked, womanizing antique dealer in East Anglia, England. It was also a BBC series starring Ian McShane (that's him on the cover above).

According to Michael Quinion's World Wide Words, Major Walter Wingfield patented the game that used "the net from badminton, the ball from fives, and the scoring from racquets" in 1874. The name came from an ancient Greek ball game.

"However," Quinion writes,
"in his patent, Major Wingfield also called it lawn tennis, chosen to distinguish it from the much older indoor game often called court tennis. A modified version of his game immediately became hugely popular under that name, though it was soon abbreviated just to tennis, so that the aficionados of the older game in snobbish retaliation started to call theirs real tennis, a term later mistakenly converted to royal tennis in Britain and some other countries."

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