Chess Pieces in Different Languages.

Ari Luiro has created a classic webpage, Chess Pieces in Different Languages:

This article presents words for chess, six chess pieces and check in 78 languages in the table. This article is originally written in Finnish. If you know more languages to be added to the table, please send me e-mail. […]

The rook has many meanings in different languages. The rook is a tower in many European languages (eg. Spanish and Portuguese torre, Finnish torni, French tour, Dutch toren), sometimes a large farm (Frisian stins), a ship (Russian lad’ja, transcribed also as ladya), a fortress or castle (Indonesian benteng) or a wagon (Chinese ju, Estonian vanker). […]

Words for chess queen in European languages are generally feminine, with a few exception. But outside Europe the chess queens usually don’t have gender or the piece is masculine. The Arabic firz or firzān (counsellor) was never translated into a European language although it was adopted. For example the Italians call the queen as donna (‘woman’) or more common regina (queen in Italian). A Latin manuscript preserved in the Einsiedeln Monastery in Switzerland (997 AD) contains the first recorded mention of the chess queen (regina). In French usage reine ‘queen’ replaced fierce or fierge (from the Arabic fers) during the 14th century; during the next century reine was replaced by the word dame. […] The queen in Estonian (lipp) is a flag. Arabic (wäziir, firzān), Russian (ferz’), Farsi (vazir, farzin), Uzbek (farzin), Hindi (farzī, wazīr) and Turkish (vezir) among others still use the ancient word of no gender firz for today’s chess queen. […]

There are many ways in different languages to call a bishop. The bishop can be a messenger (Finnish lähetti and Polish goniec), a clergyman (English bishop and Irish easpag ‘bishop’ both from Latin episcopus ‘bishop’), a rifleman (Czech střelec), a runner (German läufer, Romansh currider, Latin cursor), an elephant (Indonesian gajah) or a crazy (French fou, also a jester or a fool). Romanian nebun and Greek trelós mean fool or crazy.

That’s just a few tidbits; there’s much more at the link, and if you scroll down you’ll see a magnificent table with everything from Finnish to Tahitian.

Comments

  1. Trond Engen says:

    Nice.

    The Norwegian entry has an error. The chess queen is a dronning. It’s the queen in a deck of cards who is a dame. Also, colloquially if not officially, the knight goes by hest “horse” rather than springer. The knight in a deck of cards is a knekt. A knight, as in a royally privileged equestrian warrior in a medieval setting or the member of a honorary order in a contemporary setting, is a ridder.

  2. Before seeing the list of names for the game itself, it never occurred to me that chess and check(mate) were doublets.

    Exploring further, I guess the relationship in many languages is just plural and singular.

  3. PlasticPaddy says:

    @trond
    If knekt meant “servant”, this would be closer to one sense of knave in English (I do not know if this sense applies to the card of that name).

  4. The Norwegian entry has an error.

    I just dropped him a line to alert him.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    While it’s perfectly true that Welsh esgob and castell are borrowed from Latin, that’s a slightly odd way of putting it: they’re the ordinary words for “bishop” and “castle.” I mean, what isn’t borrowed from Latin in Welsh?*

    Gwyddbwyll, like Irish fidhcheall, originally referred to a quite different (and alas, somewhat dull) game:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fidchell

    *Well, quite a lot, but you know what I mean.

  6. There’s a similar list on Wikipedia, which also includes the abbreviations used for notating a game.

    I can’t say with any certainty, but I think ტურა for queen in Georgian is wrong, as that word means jackal. კუ, also meaning tortoise, is some nice commentary on bishops.

  7. This made me look up the curious Hebrew פַּט /pat/ ‘stalemate’, which rhymes with מַט /mat/ ‘checkmate’. In the back of my mind was the idea that since they rhymed and were related semantically, they must have a similar origin. But /pat/ comes from French pat, which per TLFI is probably a borrowing from Italian patta (yet influenced by mat), of whose etymology it is unsure.

  8. John Emerson says:

    ”Gwyddbyll….”

    I’m sorry, this is not a real word, not even in the primitive Welsh quasi-language.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    Of course not. No argument there at all.

    Gwyddbwyll, on the other hand, is a perfectly cromwlynt word.*

    *Though I should point out that the two wy‘s are actually pronounced differently. Welsh spelling is extremely logical.

  10. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Let me guess: One consonant pair is rising, the other is falling?

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    Exactly! dd is rising, and ll is falling. Sympwls!

  12. pc, Georgian Wiki says ლაზიერი for the queen. Reads “lazier” and is from a vizier line of names.

  13. @PlasticPaddy: Both knight and knave are common West Germanic words, with the same earliest attested meanings: “boy, lad, young servant.” However, while they may have influenced one-another, they appear to be of distinct origin; it does not seem possible to get from one to the other by any regular phonetic process. On the other other hand, it is apparently challenging to explain just the various cognates of knave found around West Germanic—since they can manifest with any of /b/, /p/, /f/, or /v/ as the final consonant, with relatively little pattern to explain which appears when.

    According to David Parlett, A History of Card Games (1991), as quoted by Douglas Harper’s Online Etymological Dictionary, the equivalence of knaves and jacks among playing cards can be traced to the game of all-fours:

    Previously, the English equivalent of the French valet was normally known as Knave, in the sense of ‘serving-lad’. In the seventeenth century it came to be called Jack, from the name properly applied to the Knave of trumps at All Fours. All Fours being a low-class game, the use of ‘Jack’ for ‘Knave’ was long considered vulgar. (‘He calls the Knaves Jacks!’, remarks Estella contemptuously in Dickens’s Great Expectations.) When indices came in, it was obviously preferable to use ‘J’ rather than ‘Kn’ to avoid confusion with ‘K’ for King. Jack has since become the normal title of the lowest court, though ‘Knave’ can still be heard.

    I certainly remember that line from the first time I read Great Expectations, and I can’t be the only one.* Despite my familiarity with the nursery rhyme about the Queen of Hearts (and its appearance among the playing-card people in Alice in Wonderland), I don’t think that, prior to reading Great Expectations when I was fifteen, I had really realized that “knave” was an old-fashioned term for the “jack.”

    * There are a number of memorable scenes in the novel in which various characters, in their variously revealing ways, point out and try to correct Pip’s unrefined country habits. The best known of these bits is probably when Herbert Pocket tells Pip not to put his knife in his mouth:

    “True,” he replied. “I’ll redeem it at once. Let me introduce the topic, Handel,[**] by mentioning that in London it is not the custom to put the knife in the mouth,—for fear of accidents,—and that while the fork is reserved for that use, it is not put further in than necessary. It is scarcely worth mentioning, only it’s as well to do as other people do. Also, the spoon is not generally used over-hand, but under. This has two advantages. You get at your mouth better (which after all is the object), and you save a good deal of the attitude of opening oysters, on the part of the right elbow.”

    ** A few paragraphs earlier, Pip had received this unusual nickname from Herbert, in honor of his being an apprentice blacksmith, under his brother-in-law Joe:

    “With pleasure,” said he, “though I venture to prophesy that you’ll want very few hints. I dare say we shall be often together, and I should like to banish any needless restraint between us. Will you do me the favour to begin at once to call me by my Christian name, Herbert?”

    I thanked him and said I would. I informed him in exchange that my Christian name was Philip.

    “I don’t take to Philip,” said he, smiling, “for it sounds like a moral boy out of the spelling-book, who was so lazy that he fell into a pond, or so fat that he couldn’t see out of his eyes, or so avaricious that he locked up his cake till the mice ate it, or so determined to go a bird’s-nesting that he got himself eaten by bears who lived handy in the neighbourhood. I tell you what I should like. We are so harmonious, and you have been a blacksmith,—would you mind it?”

    “I shouldn’t mind anything that you propose,” I answered, “but I don’t understand you.”

    “Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There’s a charming piece of music by Handel, called the Harmonious Blacksmith.”

    “I should like it very much.”

    “Then, my dear Handel,” said he, turning round as the door opened, “here is the dinner, and I must beg of you to take the top of the table, because the dinner is of your providing.”

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Exploring further, I guess the relationship in many languages is just plural and singular.

    Or just identity.

    German:
    Schach “chess, check”
    (Schach)matt “checkmate”
    Patt “stalemate”

    Also variation Springer ~ Pferd, Königin ~ Dame.

    On the other other hand, it is apparently challenging to explain just the various cognates of knave found around West Germanic—since they can manifest with any of /b/, /p/, /f/, or /v/ as the final consonant, with relatively little pattern to explain which appears when.

    It’s a Kluge mess. Check out this book from p. 71 onwards.

  15. Chechen
    конь: говр
    король: паччахь
    ферзь (королева): ферзь
    ладья: ладья, тура, бIов
    пешка: жIакки
    слон: пийл, эпсар
    шах: шах; объявлять шах ала
    мат: мат; объявлять мат ала
    шахматы: шахматаш; играть в шахматех ловза

    駒 ‘piece’

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/zugzwang

  16. Korea, China, and Japan all have their local traditional versions of chess whose pieces do not correspond exactly to those of Western chess. For example, in Korean 장기 janggi, Chinese 象棋 xiàngqí and Japanese 将棋 shogi there is no analogue to the queen, and in janggi and xiangqi the king is instead called the general. The games are also all different from each other, so a janggi player and a xiangqi player wouldn’t be able to play each other for example.

    However, the table lists the Korean names in Yale Romanization for the king as “oang” 왕 wang and for the queen as “nje.oang” 녀왕 nyeowang (or 여왕 yeowang in the South Korean standard), which means that it must be referring to the Korean names of pieces for Western chess. But the Korean name of chess is given as cang.ki (janggi), which is the name of Korean chess. Western chess would be called 서양장기 seoyangjanggi (“Western janggi”) or more usually 체스 cheseu (loaned from English “chess”) instead.

    The table includes a term corresponding to checkmate in janggi, “cang.kun (pat.a.la)” 장군 (받아라) janggun (badara). 장군 janggun is the name of the general, but also the term for check (not checkmate). Adding 받아라 badara makes it something like saying “take the check”, but I don’t think I’ve actually heard it said that way; usually you just say janggun when making the move. One can escape the check and say 멍군 meonggun. So strictly speaking, janggun means check, not checkmate.

    Curiously, the text above that says that the Korean word for checkmate is “thongcang” which would be 통장 tongjang. I had never heard the word used this way, and a Korean dictionary didn’t list this definition either. But I found a link in Korean that indicates that this is a North Korean expression. A checkmate in janggi (a check that cannot be defended) is called 외통장군 oetongjanggun, and the link says that in North Korea this can be called 통장 tongjang.

    I don’t play Western chess, but Korean players would not use the same expressions for check or checkmate when playing this game, since janggun would sound inappropriate for a game that has kings instead of generals. South Korean players simply use the English loan 체크메이트 chekeumeiteu. Indeed, all the pieces simply use their English names, so you have 킹 king, 퀸 kwin, 룩 ruk, 비숍 bisyop, 나이트 naiteu, and 폰 pon. The Korean names for the king and queen listed in the table are therefore even more puzzling. Yes, these are the normal Korean words for king and queen, but we don’t use these in chess.

    For the rest of the pieces, the table gives “cha” 차 cha, “mal” 말 mal, “sang” 상 sang and “col” 졸 jol which means they are using the names of analogous pieces from janggi. I’m now wondering, given the mention of tongjang above, if these might actually be the names used for the pieces of Western chess in North Korea, which is known for avoiding English loanwords in sport terminology. I haven’t been able to find any further information though.

  17. Arabic (wäziir, firzān), Russian (ferz’), Farsi (vazir, farzin), Uzbek (farzin), Hindi (farzī, wazīr) and Turkish (vezir) among others still use the ancient word of no gender firz for today’s chess queen.

    No gender? There is now a female wazīra “minister”, Hala Zayed, currently serving as Egypt’s health minister in this time of pandemic. Hikmat Abu Zayd was Egypt’s first wazīra.

    The Urdu dictionary of Platts gives the gender of فرزين farzīn and فرزي farzī masculine and also possibly feminine, but Fallon just gives it as masculine. Of course, a word like sounding فرزي farzī would maybe sound a little bit more like a feminine than a masculine in Hindustani, but there is nothing to stop a word in from being masculine.

    I think a lot of people might read Luiro’s page and come away thinking that Persian فرزين farzīn “ferz, queen (in chess)” (> Arabic فرزان firzān, producing further variants across the Islamicate world) and Arabic and Persian وزیر wazīr “vizier; queen (in chess)” are the somehow the same word, or at least etymologically related, but they aren’t. It seems they weren’t even originally used of the same piece…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferz

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wazir_(chess)

    Persian farzīn is from Middle Persian ⟨plcyn’⟩, “ferz”. The original meaning of ⟨plcyn’⟩ is thought to have been *“guard” or the like, as a member of the king’s entourage. Most probably from an Iranian *fra-zai̯na- “very watchful”—compare Avestan zaēnah- “wakefulness, watchfulness”, possibly related to Vedic jénya-, a epithet of unknown but positive meaning, and maybe even Sanskrit jina-, applied to tirthankaras (as “awakened”) in Jainism and similarly to tathagatas in Buddhism. I hope you can see the further etymological discussion by Antonio Panaino here (p. 136ff). I find it fascinating.

    As for the etymology of Arabicوزیر wazīr “vizier, wazir (in chess)”, the medieval Arabophone world considered that it was derived from the root of Arabic wazara “to carry a burden”. A vizier carried the burden of administration for his sultan, so to speak. Such an etymology is given to the word in the Lisān al-ʿArab of 1290, for example. However, modern scholars prefer an Iranian origin. The most accessible discussion is still at the entry for the word in Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an, page 287f. Jeffery mentions that West thinks that the Middle Persian etymon vizīr has not only the meaning “decision, judgment” but also “judge”, in one place in the Denkard (a Zoroastrian text). I’ll try to verify that with the text later. Armenian վճիռ včiṙ, a borrowing of the same Middle Iranian word, also means simply “decision, judgment”, and not “judge” or “counsellor”.

  18. Very interesting stuff, thanks!

  19. David Marjanović says:

    The decider!

  20. For what it’s worth, Albanian kala for rook and kalë for bishop seems wrong in the table (the former is apparently a definite form of the latter).

    two wy‘s are actually pronounced differently

    Is there a rule? I somehow got the impression that it’s /ʊi̯/ always except after g, where it is usually, but not always, /wɪ/. But in the same time I am sure it is more complicated, not to mention differences between southern and northern Welsh.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    That’s not a bad rule of thumb, though there are indeed exceptions, and even minimal pairs, like gŵydd “goose” versus gwŷdd “trees, wood.”

    In principle, the two could always be differentiated with circumflexes, as here, but in practice that’s only done to avoid actual ambiguity. (In Welsh, the circumflex is usually a length mark, but as vowel length is mostly but not entirely predictable it’s only used in cases where the vowel might have been short given the usual phonotactic constraints, and not even then in common words like dyn “person, man.”)

  22. PlasticPaddy says:

    @de
    How does Welsh spelling show broad/slender consonants? In Irish
    duine = d-BROAD i-SHORT n-SLENDER schwa
    daoine = d-BROAD i-LONG n-SLENDER schwa
    tine = t-SLENDER i-SHORT n-SLENDER schwa
    síne = s-SLENDER i-LONG n-SLENDER schwa
    fionn = f-SLENDER i-SHORT n-BROAD *
    fíon = f-SLENDER i-LONG n-BROAD **
    buíoch = b-BROAD i-LONG ch-BROAD **
    ***

    * = the short vowel can sound like “yo” because of its production
    ** there is an epenthetic schwa after the i-LONG
    *** I cannot think of a word with the missing pattern. There may be a constraint disallowing it (e.g. in such environments the i is lengthened or one of the consonants is palatalised).

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    Welsh doesn’t have the broad/slender contrast; insofar as there is a parallel etymologically, it’s reflected in the actual vowel via so-called “i-affection”, eg. brân “crow” plural brain. (In other words, what is often merely a graphic convention in Irish, in Welsh simply reflects the pronunciation.)

  24. I assume the pronunciation of wy is not affected by mutations, is it right? So “gwynt” is /ɡwɪnt/ and “dau wynt” would be /dai̯ wɪnt/ rather than /dai̯ ʊi̯nt/ even though the g has disappeared?

    I wonder what is the situation etymologically. Is it the case that /ʊi̯/ is originally a diphtong while /wɪ/ was a consonant w plus vowel y and accidentally they ended up spelled the same? Or was it the case that the two are originally the same and somehow split later depending on surroundings (such as being influenced by a preceding g)?

    The way how the rule of thumb with g works (not bad, but not entirely reliable either) would make more sense with the first hypothesis, as gw- is a common consonant onset even before other vowels, so it makes sense to see gwy as gw + y at least initially. But I haven’t seen it discussed explicitly.

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    Albanian kala for rook and kalë for bishop seems wrong

    Indeed, the Albanian WP page for chess gives torra for “rook” and oficeri for “bishop”; whereas kali (“horse”) is used for “knight.”

    https://sq.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahu

  26. On the other hand, if gwy was gw + y, I would expect the y to retain it’s normal realisation as /ə/ in non-final syllables, which apparently does not happen. So I am a bit confused.

    (Sorry for replying to myself, but somehow I cannot edit my earlier comment, even though it is normally possible. Perhaps it’s because I am connected through a VPN.)

  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Albanian is indeed wrong:

    https://sq.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahu

    “Rook” is torra “tower”, and “bishop” is oficeri, whereas kali “horse” is used for “knight.”

  28. Welsh initial gw- before most vowels (and potentially before y as well) is normally from IE and Proto-Celtic w-. The soft mutation reduces it to w- again. E.g. gwyn ‘white’ from Celtic *windos, Irish fionn.
    wy when not as above is often from Brythonic / e: /
    gŵydd ‘goose’ is cognate with Middle Irish géd.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    I assume the pronunciation of wy is not affected by mutations, is it right?

    Quite right, yes. And you’re right about etymology: with my two minimal-pair words above, gŵydd “goose” corresponds to Old Irish géd, while gwŷdd “trees, wood” corresponds to Old Irish fid (and, of course, to English “wood.”)

    Welsh ŵy is the regular outcome of earlier long /e:/ (including /e:/ in Latin loanwords, like swydd “office”, from Latin sedes); original initial /w/- has acquired a prosthetic g– in Welsh, again including in Latin loans, like gwyrth “miracle”, from Latin virtus.

    On the other hand, if gwy was gw + y, I would expect the y to retain it’s normal realisation as /ə/ in non-final syllables, which apparently does not happen

    That environment blocked the change of /ɨ/ to /ə/ in unstressed syllables (the rule dates from the period when Welsh stress fell on the final syllable.)

    [EDIT: jinx! anhweol got there before me]

  30. Diolch yn fawr!

    Also the part about Welsh stress falling on the last syllable originally gives sense to the current phonology. Schwas inhabiting stressed syllables preferentially are weird.

  31. John Emerson says:

    The “Welsh“ are like computer nerds, the way they insist that you spell their barbarous “language” *exactly right*.

  32. Despite I don’t want to hijack the entire discussion, I have not exactly many people who know anything about Welsh around, so forgive me one more question: What about cwympo and wyneb? Wiktionary gives pronunciation /wɪ/ for both. No etymology is given for the former and for the latter it says that it comes from Proto-Brythonic *ėnib. I would expect ŵy rather than then, at least for wyneb.

  33. David Eddyshaw says:

    Gŵyr “knows” corresponds to the Old Irish -fitir, and is one of only a couple of remnants of deponent flexion* in Welsh. It’s undoubtedly from the PIE wid- root but I don’t know how it achieved its present shape exactly. Presumably there was an intermediate stage *wēr-.

    *Or maybe not: GPC seems to think that the -r- in the Insular Celtic verbs may have got imported from a 3pl form like Vedic vidré. I seem to remember that it’s a pretty aberrant verb in Old Irish too (even for an Old Irish verb) but can’t look it up until I get home.

  34. To complicate matters, not all Welsh “wy” groups get pronounced etymologically, at least colloquially. Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) ought to have the falling diphthong according to the origin, and the article form in ‘yr’ (required before vowels) reflects that. But I can only remember hearing it with ‘w’ as a consonant; and Hogia Llandegai certainly sing it that way in their lyric “Dowch ar y trên bach i ben y Wyddfa fawr”.

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    @prase:

    You’re right about wyneb: it’s ŵy. (Old Irish énech matches exactly etymologically.)

    Cwympo really is /kwɨmpo/, though. I imagine it’s onomatopoeic in origin. Or something.

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    Anhweol is right about there being unetymological pronunciations in the dialects, though. I shall do a straw poll of Welsh speakers on how they say wyneb if I ever get out into the wild again.

    There are Google hits for y wyneb (instead of yr wyneb) so the depravity is clearly real, and Wiktionary didn’t just make it up.

  37. David Eddyshaw says:

    their barbarous “language”

    At least it’s not [shudder] Dravidian.

    Welsh (being the oldest language in Europe) is naturally also the sole surviving non-Dravidian language of Europe.

  38. It’s undoubtedly from the PIE wid- root but I don’t know how it achieved its present shape exactly.

    Some recent discussion of the matter of gŵyr “knows” by Peter Schrijver (along with references to important previous literature on the formation) can be found on the first few pages of his contribution to the Olsen Festschrift, “The first person singular of ‘to know’ in British Celtic and a detail of a-affection”, available here.

    His earlier discussion of the phonology, in Studies in British Celtic Historical Phonology (1995), p. 354, can be read here, I hope.

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hah! Not only is anhweol right, he is extremely right. I just did some fieldwork in the hospital corridor with an indigenous Abertavite, who not only says [wɪnɛb] but has the remodelled unmutated form [gwɪnɛb] to go with it.

  40. Welsh (being the oldest language in Europe) is naturally also the sole surviving non-Dravidian language of Europe.

    Which is evidenced by the the fact that you get only seven Google hits for drafydd.

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    Drafydd

    He’s my crousin.

    @Xerîb:

    Very interesting, thanks! (Also reassured that even the experts seem to be reduced to ad-hockery in these cases.)

  42. David Marjanović says:

    I seem to remember that it’s a pretty aberrant verb in Old Irish too (even for an Old Irish verb) but can’t look it up until I get home.

    And then you shall undoubtedly go mad from the revelation.

  43. Old Irish verbs are not for the faint of spirit.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    -fitir

    Says Thurneysen: “The explanations offered by Wackernagel [ … ] and Krause [ … ] are not convincing.” (My italics.) Is there then no hope? No hope for us at all?

  45. As Kafka so memorably said: There is hope… but not for us.

  46. Indeed, the Albanian WP page for chess gives torra for “rook” and oficeri for “bishop”; whereas kali (“horse”) is used for “knight.”

    ship horse elephant ferz’ king – pawns

    It is Russian, in translation. But there are also informal names:

    turá, … , ofitser (“officer”), queen, …. – …..

  47. David Eddyshaw says:

    I notice that Greek also has “officers” for bishops (and towers for rooks.)

    I see that AL says

    “ζατρίκι ; in classical Greek zatríkion) was a popular board-game in ancient Greece”

    Not so: the word is from the Persian شترنج‎ shatranj (itself, of course ultimately, from the original Sanskrit Name of the Game चतुरङ्ग caturaṅga), and was adopted in Byzantine times (along with the game itself.)

  48. In German, Offiziere is the class designation for all pieces that aren’t pawns.

  49. John Cowan says:

    Thanks all for elucidating the matter of gw, the one true mystery in Welsh spelling. I must jib at the matter of Welsh being the oldest language in Europe, however: multi auctores tell us that it is Lithuanian.

    The Tarot deck, of course, has 14 cards per suit, and therefore both a Knight (who always tells the truth) and a Knave (who always lies). The usual view is that the modern Jack descends from the Knave, which fits in well with Carroll’s account. I find Tarot-whist to be an amusing game: it is basically bridge, but with no need for bidding, for the trump suit is always … the trumps.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    I must jib at the matter of Welsh being the oldest language in Europe, however: multi auctores tell us that it is Lithuanian

    This Cannot Be, because Lithuanian is a Dravidian language (though showing some traces of a Welsh substratum.)

  51. David Marjanović says:

    In German, Offiziere is the class designation for all pieces that aren’t pawns.

    Never heard that, only Figuren (…which is an insider shibboleth in that Schachfiguren does include the pawns but isn’t a useful term to True Professionals).

    caturaṅga

    …”Four corners”?

  52. David Eddyshaw says:

    Four limbs/divisions (sc. of the army.)

    Referring (probably) to this game:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaturaji

    When I were a lad, this is what people meant by Chaturanga. I suspect that some Hindutva-adjacent influence may have been going on with the WP articles (though, to be fair, it looks like the true origins of chess are fairly murky, beyond the fact that it surely originated in some form in India.)

  53. (…which is an insider shibboleth in that Schachfiguren does include the pawns but isn’t a useful term to True Professionals).

    In Russian, when discussing games figury are:

    – a bishop or knight: “he exchanged a rook for a figura”.

    – everything that is not a pawn. Bishops and knights are “light figures” then.

    otherwise

    – [shahmatnyje] figury are just chess pieces

  54. Surprised not to see Thai or Burmese – both countries have their own historic chess variants that use the standard Persian / European pieces and board, so they’d be easy to add to this list.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sittuyin
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makruk

    I really like that the pawns in Thai used to be cowrie shells, flipped over when they reach the other side of the board.

    Obviously, this list is focused on European chess, so the Japanese terms are unrelated to actual Japanese chess, Shogi, but I am fascinated by those piece names – “incense chariot” etc., and Dai Shogi included all of the following pieces:

    1 King
    1 Queen
    1 Lion
    2 Dragon kings
    2 Dragon horses
    2 Rooks
    2 Bishops
    1 Kirin
    1 Phoenix
    2 Violent oxen
    2 Flying dragons
    1 Drunk elephant
    2 Blind tigers
    2 Ferocious leopards
    2 Gold generals
    2 Silver generals
    2 Copper generals
    2 Angry boars
    2 Cat swords
    2 Vertical movers
    2 Side movers
    2 Reverse Chariots
    2 Lances
    2 Knights
    2 Evil wolves
    2 Iron generals
    2 Stone generals
    2 Gobetweens
    15 Pawns

  55. In English, a piece in chess terminology typically means a knight or bishop (as in, “A rare slip by Karpov in the opening causes him to lose a piece”—a description of this 1982 game that I read about thirty years ago and somehow never forgot). If a distinction is needed, minor piece is will work, as, in contrast, a rook or queen is a major piece.

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    Dai Shogi

    My younger son loves this game.
    The Lion is the most fiendishly ingenious invention. It’s extremely powerful. It moves like a chess king – but twice per player’s turn.

    Best thing in Japanese chess before some unsung Tokugawa genius board-games nerd invented the drop rule.

  57. 1 Kirin

    2 Violent oxen
    2 Flying dragons
    1 Drunk elephant

    Causality or coincidence?

  58. @DM: Offizier. The definition I gave was incomplete, the king is not an officer in German chess terminology.

  59. John Cowan says:

    Evidently the drunken elephant has gone into the blind tiger, where he will soon enough become a mere pawn.

    In 5x5x5 chess, my favorite variant, the Unicorn (U) moves along any 3D diagonal (that is, through the corners of the cubies). White starts out on levels A (bottom) and level B; black on level E (top) and level D. The layout of level A is R-N-K-N-R on the 1st rank and pawns on the 2nd rank; level B has B-U-Q-B-U on the 1st rank (the asymmetry is required to have one bishop on each cubie color), and again pawns on the 2nd rank, and correspondingly for black. R and B moves are extended to the third dimension in the obvious way. The queen’s moves are any of R or B or Q, and likewise the king, limited of course to a single step. Castling is disallowed; pawns can move vertically or horizontally: whether e.p. captures should be allowed is disputed.

    Another variant I like is for three players: white, red, black. I rarely get to play this, even though I have a physical board. Each player has a 4 x 8 half-square, warped as to form a hexagon in toto; it is otherwise orthochess.

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    5x5x5 chess

    Ah, yes.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-dimensional_chess#Raumschach

    I agree. Definitely the best 3D chess. I made a set when I was a kid.

  61. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve never played any kind of 3D chess, alas. But I’ve played Bauernschach (just the kings and the pawns; if a pawn of yours reaches the other end of the field, you win, which is tricky to prevent, but a checkmate is difficult to set up, too) and Atomschach, the nuclear option. It’s rather MAD: any figure taken off the field takes the figures on the surrounding 8 squares with it, always including the attacker, and potentially including a king or two, so you need to prevent any attack on anything close to your king.

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think if I was sentenced to playing only one kind of chess forever I would pick (regular) Shogi, though I would plead with the judge to be allowed Go instead of chess.

    AFAIK 3D Go is not a thing. The human brain is probably not capable of it.

  63. Stu Clayton says:

    The human brain is 3D Go.

  64. David Eddyshaw says:

    That would explain – everything.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    *galaxy brain meme*

  66. Stu Clayton says:

    Masters of the 3D version are renowned for their subtle exploitation of black-and-white thinking, which is otherwise deprecated in fashionable society.

  67. @David Marjanović: For games that are MAD, I give you the classic 43-Man Squamish. It was originally devised in 1965, but it was reprinted numerous times over the years.

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    To the uninitiated Brit, the game seems essentially indistinguishable from American Football, but I dare say that deeper familiarity with the latter would help to elucidate some of the more nuanced distinguishing features.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    I particularly appreciate the flamethrower and the tyrannosaur.

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    More pieces for Dai Shogi!

    (I will suggest it to my fellow-countryman, that well-known board-games aficionado Dafydd Siôgi.)

  71. Nikolai Karayev says:

    Maybe reflecting the original gender ambiguity the Russian ферзь is now masculine (ходить ферзём), but once it was feminine. Dal’s dictionary gives the name ферзь всяческая for the Russian version of the rules wherein the queen can move in addition like the knight, like we say, буквой Г 🙂

  72. To the uninitiated Brit, the game seems essentially indistinguishable from American Football

    Not at all. Squamish is an exaggerated form (pro satura) of Mass Soccer, a game I played much of in my youth. Though it is played on a standard pitch (that is, A=440), any number may play; indeed the number is not even necessarily even. There are three roles, called Forward, Back, and Goalie. Almost all the players are Forwards, who form a huge human clot vaguely in the middle of the field. A few Backs remain closer to the goal, which is occupied by Goalies. I was generally a Back, as this role was not much in demand.

    Rule 1 is “Not more than one goalie per ball on each team”. In general, it is poor strategy to have less, since only a goalie can throw a ball back in bounds, and play does not stop for that or any other reason, save when the players are uniformly called Late-for-Dinner. The number of balls is not prescribed, but five is not unusual. Rule 2 is “No shoes”, as their use would be disastrous in case of a misaimed kick. Fortunately, socks are required while double socks are merely permitted. The teams are distinguished as Shirts and Skins, determined by what they wear above the waist (this is not unique to this game but is commonplace among the non-uniformed).

    American Rugby, on the other hand, is simply live-action chess.

  73. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thankyou. Now I understand. There is really no substitute for a native guide in these matters.

  74. I used to live (centuries ago) in a household with five Bolivians, bilinguals from Cochabamba from whom I learned Spanish with an Andean accent, but Quechua was the language of chess games. All I remember was that pawns were called “walpi” (chickens) and the guys whould shout out “I ate your chicken!” during the games.

  75. Great story, and nice to see you around these parts! I’ve been wearing my kucsma most days this winter, so thanks again.

  76. David Eddyshaw says:

    wyneb

    I just chanced across this

    https://www.cymmrodorion.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/10-John-Morris-Jones-and-his-Welsh-Grammar.pdf

    which apart from quoting some truly wonderful specimens of academic bitchiness, e.g.

    Sir John Morris-Jones is singular in thinking that other philologists look on him as one. … it is no wonder that his philologizing has won for him the silent contempt of men who have been scientifically trained in the subject, and have the gift that comes from steady work, and an endless capacity for taking pains. It is not by lounging through life, with a pipe in his mouth, that a man can leave a permanent impress on any subject.

    … also contains this note on Morris-Jones’ condemnation of gwyneb “face”, which occurs on p44 of his (justly famous) Welsh Grammar:

    gwyneb: This vulgarism hardly occurs before the 19th cent.” — It is a vulgarism which Morris-Jones himself was happy to use in a letter in 1893 (when gwyneb and wyneb were thought to be of different etymology and therefore equally valid.)

  77. nemanja says:

    “@David Marjanović: For games that are MAD, I give you the classic 43-Man Squamish. It was originally devised in 1965, but it was reprinted numerous times over the years.”

    To me this reads like archetypal Boomer humor – to the extent there’s a joke in there at all is “can you believe those foreign sports with their incomprehensible rules and rituals”. They even call the star player Draja Druvnik in case the tone of seething condescension somehow escaped your attention.

  78. Yes, because nobody other than those born between 1946 and 1965 ever made fun of foreigners.

    *rolls eyes*

  79. David Eddyshaw says:

    Are we not all, in the final analysis, funny foreigners?

  80. We are indeed, but some of us can’t see the humor in it.

  81. I mean, i can definitely see the humor in this, but more in the meta sense.

    But very much reminded me of how Andy Kaufman is considered a comedic genius because he played a broad ethnic stereotype on a TV show, or more precisely a broad caricature of a foreigner, so this kind of thing is par for the course.

  82. But par for the course for humanity, or for “Boomers”? Are you presuming yourself free from sin?

  83. David Eddyshaw thinks Squamish looks like a parody of American football, nemanja thinks it’s mocking foreigners. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

    I mean, it is clearly an “American” game since the editors themselves claimed to have invented it. When I read the reprint as a kid in the 1970s it just seemed like typical MAD silliness, I certainly didn’t get a “let’s mock foreigners” vibe at the time.

    In the context of 1965, I suspect what was going on was primarily a commentary on the dramatic growth, increasing complexity and rule inflation of American football (which by 1965 was already a very different game from the football played in 1950, and had just become, thanks to television, our “national sport”), flavored with the increasing popularity of “weird” sports like lacrosse and soccer, combined with a dash of unease at the rapid change and bureaucratic complexity in post-war America, all thrown into a blender. Draja Druvnik is because Slavic sounding names were always good for a cheap laugh in 1960s America, just like Polish jokes (sorry), and also MAD was infused with a strong Yiddish/Borsht belt sense of humor. For whatever reason, the silly strip seemed to resonate with people for decades, and not because it was “anti foreign”.

  84. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re the player’s name, I think there were several prominent American professional spprts players with vowel-challenged Slavic surnames in the 60’s. Yastrzemski (whose grandson is also a pro) comes to mind.

  85. I regret saying boomers, since a piece from 1965 was almost certainly written by someone born before 46, but it also means “old, out of touch” like in the famous retort “ok boomer” . As for whether i’m free of sin, i’m a Gen Xer, we’re less a generation and more of a shooting range or punching bag for zoomer jokes. That said, Gen X humor is bad in a very different way than Boomer humor is bad. For example, the mere mention of a foreign name is not considered a joke. E.g., a millennial standup might say: my mental illness has genuinely made my life harder and here is an amusing way of putting everything. Boomer comedian: holy fucking christ do I hate my wife and kids

    Boomer humor is lazy above all else, incurious about anything outside of their own lived experience – I understood the piece to be attempting to satirize “strange” (ie unknown to Americans”) sports. But it’s so wide of the mark that it reads like a random grab bag of jokes about how these sports use funny names for equipment and officials. To the extent there’s a joke in the piece it’s that, repeated ad nauseam – officials have funny titles, the field of play is called something wacky, etc etc. Satire works best, and packs the biggest punch, when it’s grounded in detail, in specific observations about the satirical target and its place in the world – i’m not saying it’s out of bounds to make fun of rugby or water polo or whatever, in fact those things are begging to be made fun of, but to do it well requires you to be familiar with the subject so you can tease out the funny parts. Otherwise it just comes across as barely concealed contempt or even rage. Same with jokes about foreign people – they land when they connect to some particularity about a given nation or their culture, so eg a joke about people from the Balkans being terrified of drafty windows, vs “Polish people are dumb”.

    Also kind of hilarious that the entire thing is not even about pro sports but rather about the uniquely American semi-pro world of college sports.

    LIke i said, this is pretty much what boomer comedy is to me – and given that it’s from 1965, it’s commentable that there’s nothing overtly racist or misogynist in there so well done. HOnestly, it would have been way better if he just worked in “blecchh” in there somewhere,

  86. it also means “old, out of touch” like in the famous retort “ok boomer” … Boomer humor is lazy above all else, incurious about anything outside of their own lived experience … LIke i said, this is pretty much what boomer comedy is to me

    Gosh, it’s fun to have a punching bag. Funny how people who become enraged at certain stereotypes are perfectly happy to enjoy others. For those following along at home, there is no such thing as “boomer humor” — there is all sorts of humor employed by those born between 1946 and 1965, just as by those born in any period, some good/clever, some bad/dumb, but if one is looking to score points and find an easy target for wrath, one can always pick out the bad ones and call them characteristic. This is exactly how all prejudice works, but these days some prejudice is terrible (against women, minorities, etc.), while some is OK (against boomers, Southerners, etc.). Me, I reserve my prejudice for the rich and powerful. (And no, “boomers” are not rich and powerful; a few are, most are getting by on Social Security.)

  87. I think it is most interesting how named “generations” tend to slip in time. The first time I heard about the “Baby Boom,” it was described as ending with the Korean War (and, incidentally, only referring to Americans or Canadians). More recently, I have seen the end of the Baby Boomers’ generation typically placed at 1960. However, I remember my father (turning 72 in a couple weeks) pointing out that, in many respects, he had far more formative experiences in common with someone like my wife’s father (seven years older) than his own youngest brother (seven years younger). In particular, my uncle never had the real possibility of being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Extending the “Boomers” to people born in the mid-1960s effectively robs the term of all meaning.

    Similarly, “Generation X” was originally supposed to refer to people, largely born in the 1960s, to parents born before (the end of) the Second World War. But it quickly drifted later; I’ve recently seen it used for people born in the late 1980s, to Boomer parents. I also recall, in the 1990s, Boomer (and older) journalists and cultural commentators conflating groups like the members of the most famous grunge band, Nirvana (e.g. Kurt Cobain, born 1967, and Dave Grohl, born 1967, Baby Busters par excellence) with their typically fans, who were ten to fifteen years younger.

  88. David Eddyshaw says:

    humor employed by those born between 1946 and 1965

    Monty Python is thus pre-Boomer and consequently OK.

    They never made jokes about officials with funny titles IIRC, and their satire was always grounded in detail. This was also true of the even more safely pre-Boomerite Goon Show. I can fairly say I was myself radicalised by the searing social commitment of the Goon Show. I would not be the exemplary People’s Commissar I am today if I had not been shown the way by Spike Milligan.

  89. I understood the piece to be attempting to satirize “strange” (ie unknown to Americans”) sports

    It was not. You missed the joke, which I already explained in detail above. It was satirizing American society. Perhaps your lack of familiarity with American football has led you astray? If the satire is not particularly sharp, keep in mind the target audience for this humor was precocious 14 year olds.

  90. Cricket is funny, too, because it’s also incomprehensible.

  91. (If I wanted to get huffy about something, it would be about using Squamishpeople, or more likely, place — as a “funny name”. But I won’t get huffy about it either.)

  92. J.W. Brewer says:

    Brett’s link to the original 43-Man Squamash piece isn’t working for me, I having left this thread unread for a few days, but I found this piece about the story’s afterlife (including a knock-off in a rival magazine and attempts at various universities to actually field teams): https://www.trueorbetter.com/2018/04/43-man-squamish-innovation-in-athletics.html

    The “Borscht Belt” point, I take it, is that lowbrow goyim-have-inherently-funny-names jokes were not offensive to mainstream goyische American sensibilities when the Ashkenazic-American tellers of such jokes picked old-country (i.e. Slavic-sounding) goyische names rather than mainstream-American goyische names. Something like this was going on with “Polish jokes,” as well.

    Every time I have read cricket coverage in a UK newspaper it has tended to confirm the hypothesis that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax aimed at tricking foreigners. OTOH, I have taken foreigners (from both cricket-country and non-cricket-country origins) to baseball games and they genuinely seemed to find it completely incomprehensible, and my difficulty in coherently explaining what was intuitive to me (like the grammar of a language learned in early childhood) tended to suggest that they weren’t wrong.

  93. David Eddyshaw says:

    While it is perfectly true that cricket is incomprehensible, I have to say that it is also intrinsically ridiculous*.

    Not, of course, that that in any way constitutes an argument against cricket. It’s what we Wittgensteinians call a – what was it? – ah, yes – a game. That was the word.

    *Mind you, I think this about all team sports other than Rugby. I accept that others may not see so clearly as I in these matters.

  94. I don’t know how anyone can read seething condescension, contempt or rage into that typically silly MAD flight of fancy. Of course the whole joke is that “officials have funny titles, the field of play is called something wacky, etc etc.” You may or may not find it funny, but the horrible Boomer xenophobia is all in your head.

  95. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re “Boomer” definition – obviously a cohort that covers 15+ years of birth will have different internal strata. FWIW the latest Boomer-bashing book (modeled as the reviews all say on Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, even though as the reviews mostly don’t say the actual title Eminent Boomers was I believe rejected by the publisher for fear the allusion would not be understood) identifies six exemplars with years of birth ranging from 1947 (Paglia) to 1961 (Sorkin), but with the remaining four born in ’54 or ’55. (This review is by a reviewer born in 1948: https://www.city-journal.org/review-of-boomers-by-helen-andrews)

    Focusing on the “Baby Boom” in a U.S. context purely as a birth-rate phenomenon, a late end (’63-born kids definitely Boomers and ’64 borderline) makes a lot of sense, because you can see on a chart the abrupt drop in births/year that makes my year-of-birth (’65) the first unequivocally post-Boom one. But there are all sorts of ways in which an early Gen-X’er like myself (or Dave Grohl, who is my younger brother’s age) has things in common with late Boomers the age of say Barack Obama (tho’ maybe a little less self-conscious) that we perhaps don’t have in common with a late Gen-X’er like Brett.

    Back in 1983, a musician born in 1961 tried to propose a catchy name for the cohort of kids born between the very late Fifties and the mid/late Sixties. It didn’t catch on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hofC_4oiHYo

  96. MAD, like the good skilled comedians they were, knew well the difference between punching up and punching down.

  97. David Eddyshaw says:

    I was just discussing with a Welsh colleague the following passage (one of my favourites) from Decline and Fall, a book which I enthusiastically recommended to him:

    “The Welsh character is an interesting study,” said Dr. Fagan. “I have often considered writing a little monograph on the subject, but I was afraid it might make me unpopular in the village. The ignorant speak of them as Celts, which is of course wholly erroneous. They are of pure Iberian stock — the aboriginal inhabitants of Europe who survive only in Portugal and the Basque district. Celts readily intermarry with their neighbours and absorb them. From the earliest times the Welsh have been looked upon as an unclean people. It is thus that they have preserved their racial integrity. Their sons and daughters rarely mate with human-kind except their own blood relations. In Wales there was no need for legislation to prevent the conquering people intermarrying with the conquered. In Ireland that was necessary, for there intermarriage was a political matter. In Wales it was moral. I hope, by the way, you have no Welsh blood?”

    “None whatever,” said Paul.

    “I was sure you had not, but one cannot be too careful. I once spoke of this subject to the sixth form and learned later that one of them had a Welsh grandmother. I am afraid it hurt his feelings terribly, poor little chap. She came from Pembrokeshire, too, which is of course quite a different matter. I often think,” he continued, “that we can trace almost all the disasters of English history to the influence of Wales. Think of Edward of Carnarvon, the first Prince of Wales, a perverse life, Pennyfeather, and an unseemly death, then the Tudors and the dissolution of the Church, then Lloyd George, the temperance movement, Nonconformity and lust stalking hand in hand through the country, wasting and ravaging. But perhaps you think I exaggerate? I have a certain rhetorical tendency, I admit.”

    “No, no,” said Paul.

    “The Welsh,” said the Doctor, “are the only nation in the world that has produced no graphic or plastic art, no architecture, no drama. They just sing,” he said with disgust, “sing and blow down wind instruments of plated silver….”

  98. A rare event when someone here quotes something familiar. I read it, as a schoolboy. I liked the title:)

  99. David Marjanović says:

    they genuinely seemed to find it completely incomprehensible

    In (at least) one of his books, S. J. Gould tried to explain evolution by baseball.

    Afterwards, I understood evolution. I still don’t understand baseball.

    (And I’ve never tried to understand cricket.)

  100. January First-of-May says:

    While it is perfectly true that cricket is incomprehensible, I have to say that it is also intrinsically ridiculous

    My personal favorite “explanation” of cricket was given* by David Morgan-Mar:

    “Cricket is a bit like darts. If you have someone on an opposing team stand in front of the dartboard and attempt to knock the dart away from hitting the board. Players on the first team then have to try to catch the dart, or retrieve it, while the opposing player runs to the throwing line and back to the dartboard.
    Just change the dartboard to a wicket, and the dart to a ball, and that’s basically it.
    (This may or may not be less confusing…)”

    I hope to understand enough cricket some day to be able to tell whether MacDougal’s score-topping stunt was allowed by the rules, and why. So far I’m not yet to the point where I can quite understand what exactly his stunt was.

    David Morgan-Mar also (many years earlier) came up with the great Viking sport of burling, which is probably also quite challenging to play, but less because the teams are large (they aren’t that large) and more because it’s hard to make/find a good field.

     
    *) to me, during a chat in his Discord server

  101. Growing up in the 1980s we thought of Baby Boomers as people old enough to have been at Woodstock. The same cohort as the 68ers in Germany or France. Clearly someone born in 1964 is not part of that cohort, or even born in 1958. Even if that doesn’t fit the demographics, the 1940-1950 cohort was really the pivotal generation that brought us the 1960s and youth culture.

  102. I think this about all team sports other than Rugby

    David Eddyshaw sums up the Squamish joke in one sentence. Since I suspect most of the MAD Magazine contributors were not great athletes, nor were a lot of their core readers, mocking sports in general is probably the real point.

  103. >To the extent there’s a joke in the piece it’s that, repeated ad nauseam – officials have funny titles, the field of play is called something wacky, etc etc.

    Well, “there’s a soccer born every minute” was a good tag line, and the idea you can turn pro by throwing a game.

    But most of it reminded me why I didn’t even like Mad as a precocious 14 year old. Bad jokes drive out good.

  104. @David Marjanović: Gould also wrote a column (most of his books are just compilations of his columns from Natural History, very rarely with any additional editing) in which he applied evolutionary methods to understanding the development of baseball. It has been extensively observed that the best offensive players in major league baseball today have batting averages substantially lower than players from the “Golden Age of Sports.”* Gould pointed out that this was exactly what you would expect as the strategies and gameplay in the sport of baseball gradually became more and more standardized. Weak defensive play was weeded out, but so was weak offensive play. He illustrated this by digging up statistics not just for how the highest batting averages changed over time but also how the lowest averages changed. As he predicted, in the early days, the highs were higher and the lows were lower, until both settled down in the post-war period, once the sport had finally reached its mature state.

    * The last player to hit over .400 was Ted Williams in 1941. He was famously advised not to play on the last day of the season, to protect his .400 average, but he insisted on playing and went six for eight in the double header that day. The reason he insisted on playing is unclear. Some accounts say that he simply refused to sit the day out to game the system; others say that Williams was not satisfied, because his average at the beginning of that day was actually slightly below .400 and only rounded up to that number. Actually, if averages were calculated then the way they are now, his average would have been well over .400 already, since he had a number of sacrifice flies (hard-hit fly balls that are caught in the outfield, rendering the batter out, but leaving time for a runner on third to make it home after the catch, before the outfielder can get the ball back in to home plate) that were counted as simple outs then but would not have been counted as such under the current system.

    Williams .400 performance in 1941 was actually probably helped by the ongoing Second World War, even though America was not formally part of the fighting yet. Young men were already going into the military, merchant marine, etc., rather than playing baseball that year. It is presumably not a coincidence that that was the same season that Joe DiMaggio got hits in fifty-six consecutive games. I think that’s a much less impressive stat** than Williams’s .406 batting average for the season, but it was enough to win DiMaggio the American League Most Valuable Player over Williams.

    ** However, I do remember George Plimpton, being interviewed as part of Ken Burns’s 1994 documentary Baseball, describing his and his teenaged New York friends’ excitement as the streak went on—coming home each day and asking, “Did he get one today?”*** So for at least some fans, the hitting streak was obviously a big deal.

    *** The only similar experience I had—of coming home every day and always wanting to know what the day’s developments had been—was not sports related. It was during the organized crime trials in Boston in the early 2000s. There were stretches when, every day it seemed, there would be new revelations from the testimony of Stephen “the rifleman” Flemmi or new bodies uncovered at the various burial grounds around town.

    Boston was, in fact, the only place I lived that I felt I was part of an almost universal local culture—that there were things that were particular to the area, but which it seemed like practically everybody in the area participated in. (This may seem especially strange given that I and many, many other people I knew in the Boston area were just students passing through temporarily.) Ironically, the two things that seemed most universally part of Boston culture at the time were Red Sox fandom and fascination with the organized crime situation. One evening, my wife and I had our window open as we were watching a Red Sox playoff game, and one of the umpires made a particularly bad call (and not the first terrible call against the Sox that game; one of the umps actually apologized on television the next day) and we could hear the entire city yelling. I have never experienced anything like it, hearing literally hundreds of thousands of voices joining my own as we cried out in disgust. Riding the trains in Boston, I also got to see a cross section of what people around the city were reading. When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released, you could look around any train car, and there was virtually always somebody reading it—but that would be true anywhere in the English-speaking world. However, a little later, I observed the same thing with another book, which I’m sure was specific to the Boston area. Every time I peered around at my fellow passengers, there was at least one person reading Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob.

  105. MAD Magazine contributors were not great athletes

    But I’ll bet you they were all baseball fans.

  106. That would certainly fit the stereotype

  107. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Cricket is a very relaxing game to watch if you don’t care who wins. Same for golf.

  108. John Emerson says:

    I believe that Nate Silver has ruled that Dimaggio’s streak was the greater accomplishment.

    I first read MAD In a wild and crazy compilation of pre-1960 things, and as time went on felt the magazine became more formulaic and less fun. But maybe I just grew up.

    Stephen Jay Gould’s “Wonderful Life” and “Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle”, at least, presents connected arguments.

  109. PlasticPaddy says:

    I believe baseball/softball would be popular with (pre)-teenage geek MAD readers. Unlike the other major US 1960s outdoor team sports (American football and basketball), it is impossible to exclude or marginalise particular players during play. American football would also have the disadvantage that the geek would find himself (use of the male pronoun is deliberate and historically accurate) involved in more than his fair share of “off-ball” tackles or robust blocking moves. The scope for such play in basketball would have been narrower but nevertheless still a factor for the geek participant.

  110. I believe that Nate Silver has ruled that Dimaggio’s streak was the greater accomplishment.

    Any rational analysis would come to this conclusion, but our feelings about things are not reason-based.

    I believe baseball/softball would be popular with (pre)-teenage geek MAD readers.

    True of me; I was a huge baseball fan in the late ’50s-early ’60s but cared little about football (I watched it with my father and uncle to be part of the gang, so I knew how it worked, but didn’t play it or follow the standings) and nothing about basketball (I absorbed my father’s frequently repeated axiom that there’s no point paying attention until the last couple of minutes).

  111. And of course Americans had barely heard of soccer in those days (standard attitude: all the games are ties, usually 0-0; it’s just a bunch of guys running from one end of a field to the other and back).

  112. Lars Mathiesen says:

    usually 0-0: That was actually true even when soccer was your national sport. Well, maybe that was the 80s, I have repressed that memory.

  113. Rodger C says:

    Having read the review to which J. W. Brewer links, I can only say that any author who can use the phrase “sundering of Western civilization” with a straight face immediately raises a red flag with me.

  114. Rodger C says:

    My first exposure to baseball was that my father loved to listen to Cincinnati Reds games on radio. Presumably he could visualize what was going on. To me it might as well have been the Ethiopic Mass, intoned one. word. at. a. time. I think now that this helped form my prejudice against all sports.

  115. >And of course Americans had barely heard of soccer in those days (standard attitude: all the games are ties, usually 0-0;

    That wasn’t true at the time. The average number of goals in the World Cup Final through 1970 was 5. From ’74 to 2012, it was 2. And people who follow the sport will recognize that those numbers are representative.

    The difference was the rise of the “professional foul”, a cynical tackle made knowing you were cheating, but that the the rules of the game made it worth the decision. It flipped the balance from offense to defense. You could stop near certain goals and turn them into free kicks 23 yards out that would be converted about once in every 10 tries. The effect wasn’t so much these particular incidents as that the new attitude allowed backs to mark much more aggressively because all might not be lost if their man got past them, encouraging defenders to make borderline tackles, and just generally the more tempered play of attackers who had to deal with ridiculous, bad-faith hacking.

    The problem isn’t only the risk benefit calculation of fouling being weighted towards committing the foul for the team, but that the individual committing the foul almost never got punished, since the only available punishment is telling him he’s a bad boy or expelling him for good, which refs aren’t generally willing to do. If soccer had a penalty box like hockey, made 10-minute expulsions normal, and instead of taking free kicks from the site of the foul, moved them 10 yards closer to the goal, the 70’s never would have happened.

    All this presages the EU’s inability to deal with Victor Orban, and the American media’s inability to deal with Trump. Systems set up on the theory that everyone will participate in good faith find it difficult to manage those whose motives are different.

  116. John Emerson says:

    To a real baseball fan, if the score is 0-0 at the top of the ninth it’s an exciting pitchers’ battle even through nothing has happened. I imagine true soccer fans feel the same way.My son was a pretty good baseball player (catcher, a key position) but found games like that boring. The best athlete among his friends wasn’t a fan at all — if he wasn’t playing he wasn’t interested.

    Football is between baseball and basketball, in that you have very few 0-0 games by the 4th quarter, but it’s also rare for a game to totally turn around during the last few minutes (though not impossible- Elway and Brady were famous for doing that).

  117. That wasn’t true at the time.

    Of course not; I’m talking about ignorant prejudice, not reality. Jews don’t actually control the world’s economy either, nor are Masons secretly in charge of the world’s government(s).

  118. John Emerson says:

    I was enough of a fan to listen to Harvey Haddix’s 1959 12 inning perfect game (which he lost in the 13th inning) with close attention, even though I couldn’t even watch the batters making outs and even though my home team wasn’t playing. 100% vicarious wish-fulfillment — I played baseball for only one year and was terrible.

  119. John Emerson says:

    Yeah, it’s the Bavarian Illuminati. Everyone knows that. In secret alliance with the Pope (my own discovery! You heard it here first.)

  120. standard attitude: all the games are ties, usually 0-0; it’s just a bunch of guys running from one end of a field to the other and back

    With some modifications, that sums up how I’ve always felt about basketball, a game I have never been able to muster any interest in. The difference is that if there’s a tie it’s more likely to be 86-86 in the closing minutes, which are then slowed down to a geological pace by endless timeouts, fouls, free throws and so on, which cause the final 120 seconds of the game to occupy 23 1/2 minutes of real time.

  121. Speaking of incomprehensibility, I believe that American football is on a par with cricket. In both cases, the basic aim — getting the ball into the end zone, scoring runs — is easy to grasp, but the intricacies of how those objects are accomplished involves many mysterious rules. I grew up with cricket, spending many a Sunday watching my Dad play for the local team, but despite many years of football-watching, there are still a number of things I haven’t entirely got the hang of. Sometimes a play will be ruled dead because of an ‘ineligible receiver,’ for example. What? He didn’t sign his name correctly on a permission slip before the game? His socks don’t match?

  122. But Hat, I’m not saying people didn’t have ignorant prejudices about soccer. That particular prejudice likely arose later. Soccer scores were similar to baseball and hockey scores. My guess is that in 1967, Americans associated soccer with both foreigners and prep schools, both putting it outside the mainstream, and that no further consideration was needed.

    John, the coming of the professional foul and cynical, defensive football were not greeted happily by “real fans”, who angrily lamented the decline of the game. As a lifelong player and fan, I’ve rarely found a 0-0 tie entertaining. There are those today who say they enjoy scoreless draws. Stockholm Syndrome is a strange and troubling phenomenon.

    The rhythm of an exciting soccer match definitely depends on near misses, which American announcers don’t understand, typically calling them as minor tragedies. If you’re playing a near miss tends to invigorate you and put your opponents on their heels, because they realize they likely won’t be so lucky next time. But most 0-0 ties aren’t attacking masterpieces with ‘bar music’ and balls bending just wide. They’re lackluster affairs with uncreative long balls from the back bouncing out of play, the abrupt stops of offsides and ugly tackles. The excitement of near misses depends on more than occasional consummation.

  123. That particular prejudice likely arose later.

    Huh? It definitely was around when I was a kid. Once more, it had nothing to do with actual soccer statistics. All Americans knew about soccer was that it involved a lot of men running back and forth across a field and rarely scoring. Even we knew that “0-0” was an exaggeration, but the fact was there wasn’t much productive action (as far as the untutored eye could see), just vigorous running around. You call that a sport? The fact that football, although the scores were higher thanks to awarding 6 points for a touchdown, mainly consisted of a bunch of musclebound men standing around waiting for the next chance to grunt and try to move forward a few inches didn’t bother us, because we were used to it and took it for granted, like the tasteless bread and canned vegetables we ate.

  124. J.W. Brewer says:

    I guess the functional takeaway from the decline and fall in soccer style in the ’70’s is that it’s quite possible to have a 0-0 score late in the game without either goalie having made a bunch of spectacular and exciting-to-watch saves. Whereas as suggested above a scoreless-in-the-ninth baseball game is presumably more likely to have involved some spectacular and exciting-to-watch pitching and/or fielding by both teams along the way? Admittedly, you probably need some prior immersion in order to recognize excitingly-above-average pitching when you see it.

    About 30 years ago I got a call from a college friend who was at the time working at the UN in New York. His summer intern was going to spend a few weeks seeing America by greyhound before returning to Germany for her next academic year in university (Constance, I think), and she was going to be in Chicago (where I lived at the time) on such-and-such date and could I give her a place to stay and show her around. So I took her to a blues bar one evening and a daytime game at Wrigley Field the next, as “authentic American” experiences. I think it was during that game that I became aware of baseball’s lack of, shall we say, unified core concepts. There are a bunch of different ways you can get out but no real core meaning of “outness” that they are all predictable instances of, and then the rules have exceptions. You can overrun first base w/o being tagged out once your foot is off the bag, but not so on second or third, etc. By contrast, with the exception of the offsides rule, soccer seems as simple as “try to get the ball into the other side’s goal but don’t use your hands unless you’re that one guy.” The details of how the ball gets put back into play when it goes out of bounds and what will cause a whistle to be blown are comparatively minor in terms of a novice’s ability to follow what’s going on (although rather more important to a novice player).

  125. By contrast, with the exception of the offsides rule, soccer seems as simple as “try to get the ball into the other side’s goal but don’t use your hands unless you’re that one guy.”
    That’s how I’ve always seen it in comparison to other games, but I wasn’t sure that it’s just because I grew up with the sport*), so thanks for confirming.
    *) I never played in a club, but I grew up listening to football reports on radio and watching it on TV, and it was the sport us kids played on the playground and on the schoolyard.

  126. Dimaggio’s hitting streak was certainly a more difficult statistical feat than Williams’s batting average that year (especially if you count the fact that, after just one game without a hit, he immediately had another fifteen-game streak). The closest anyone else has ever come is a forty-five game streak. It is sometimes described as one the records that will never be broken, although it’s not one of those records that basically cannot be broken, due to changes in gameplay. (No pitcher is ever going to approach Cy Young’s 511 wins; Roger Clemens only got 354. And there are other records that are even farther out of reach than that, like Young’s 749 complete games or Ty Cobb stealing home fifty-four times.) However, that doesn’t mean that Dimaggio’s streak was actually as offensively valuable as Williams’s consistent hitting.

  127. Ah well, “offensively valuable” is another matter entirely.

  128. Stu Clayton says:

    Much of what Damien Hirst does has become offensively valuable. The latter property is an emergent aspect of the former, the times being what they are.

  129. David Marjanović says:

    The Gould book I meant was Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. (Incidentally, the completely different German title – “Illusion Progress: The Manifold Ways of Evolution” – may be one of the rare cases where such a thing is an improvement.) It explains the extinction of the .400 batting average at great length, mentioning also repeated tweaks to the rules (small changes to the sizes of gloves or pitcher’s mounds for example) that were meant to prevent the game from becoming easier for increasingly better players, i.e. the batting averages from rising.

    standard attitude: all the games are ties, usually 0-0; it’s just a bunch of guys running from one end of a field to the other and back

    True enough. The trick is that both teams spend all that time almost scoring; if you care about one of them, the suspense is unbearable and apparently addictive.

    To me it might as well have been the Ethiopic Mass, intoned one. word. at. a. time.

    Boy, do you need some soccer coverage. 🙂 Volume, pitch and speed of the radio commentator’s voice are directly proportional to how close the ball is to the goal.

    In secret alliance with the Pope (my own discovery! You heard it here first.)

    The Pope Emeritus – or so they want us to believe.

    the coming of the professional foul and cynical, defensive football were not greeted happily by “real fans”, who angrily lamented the decline of the game.

    ODIO ETERNO AL CALCIO MODERNO

    Graffito seen far outside Italy.

  130. “is that it’s quite possible to have a 0-0 score late in the game without either goalie having made a bunch of spectacular and exciting-to-watch saves”

    Scored goals and spectacular saves are not the only things a fan can enjoy. I can remember a couple of 0-0 games that captivated my attention fully without spectacular saves. When skilled players are passionately doing something that you can at least partly understand, the process is interesting.

    Utterly boring games happen too, but rarely at the level of main international competitions. Games of the Russian premier league were impossible to watch some 20 years ago, exactly because an element “passionately” was absent friom there entirely. I have not even tried to see any since then. Italy is famous (and used to be much hated by some for that) with her defence, and her 0-0’s (I do not follow news, maybe they changed tactics by now). Yet there are always fans of Italian football outside of Italy: passion and skill are still there. For me personally 0-0 games without saves are just less diverse, there is a list of what can be cool about a football game, and for 0-0 game this list is shorter.

  131. John Cowan says:

    Sir John Morris-Jones is singular

    A fine example of what Tolkien called the litigious lists of the Welsh scholars; his topos of modesty in the beginning of “English and Welsh” was intended (as he himself says in a letter to his aunt) to disclaim membership in any of the factions.

    But as Tolkien also says there, M-J could give as good as he got: he named his house, which had a fine outlook on the Menai Strait, “Gadara View”, an allusion that David E will certainly understand.

  132. David Eddyshaw says:

    In re Tolkien and Welsh, I was looking at David Salo’s A Gateway to Sindarin recently. I had not hitherto appreciated just how much like Welsh this Sindarin actually is (mutations and all), to the degree that I’d say its basic structure is so very Welsh as to raise very real issues of copyright infringement. I may suggest to my contacts in the Senedd that we seek a compromise (avoiding litigation, from which only lawyers would benefit) with the Tolkien estate regarding an equitable franchising/royalty arrangement. This could benefit our national exchequer significantly.

    (Clothed, and in my right mind.)

  133. John Cowan says:

    Sir John Morris-Jones is singular

    A fine example of what Tolkien called the litigious lists of the Welsh scholars; his topos of modesty in the beginning of “English and Welsh” was intended (as he himself says in a letter to his aunt) to disclaim membership in any of the factions.

    But as Tolkien also says there, M-J could give as good as he got: he named his house, which had a fine outlook on the Menai Strait, “Gadara View”, an allusion that David E will certainly understand.

    [M-J’s] first real friend in London, Sam Mainwaring of Marylebone,
    the Anarcho-Syndicalist from Neath, was also his Welsh informant.

    That’s pretty staggeringly incoherent. How is it that one is “from Neith” but “of Marylebone”, unless one is, like Sir Boyle Roche’s bird, in two places at once?

  134. David Eddyshaw says:

    How is it that one is “from Neath” but “of Marylebone”

    He’d be one of the Neath Mainwarings (or Mainwaringion); they arrived from Marylebone in the train of Edward’s armies but subsequently went Fantee and became Anarcho-Syndicalists in order to fit in.

  135. David Eddyshaw says:

    Having discovered, to my delight, that all the relevant issues of Y Cymmrodor are online, I can see (a) exactly why Gwenogvryn Evans was quite so cross with Morris-Jones, and (b) that Morris-Jones’ offending criticism of Gwenogvryn Evans’ notes to his otherwise exemplary Taliesin was, in point of fact, absolutely justified.*

    Welsh literary celebrity deathmatch. Order popcorn …

    *The issue is in fact quite interesting in its own right: it’s the question of how far back the originals of the Welsh poetry that we only have in Middle Welsh guise, but purports to be much older, actually go back. Happily, in this case, the romantic answer “a very long way”, seems in fact to be, in the most important cases, also the right answer. Morris-Jones arguments are extremely convincing (and more recent linguistic work has thoroughly demolished some of the counterarguments which were still around in 1918.)

  136. So Kenneth H. Jackson is vindicated? I think of him as the “it goes way back” guy.

  137. David Eddyshaw says:

    I hadn’t realised until reading Morris-Jones’ piece/rant that in 1918 the date at which Brythonic lost its final syllables was supposed to be several centuries too late, apparently because of the archaic forms of Brythonic names still used in Latin long after the loss had actually taken place. (As M-J says, that is like supposing from forms like “Henricus” that Henry VIII was called Henricus in the English of his Tudor contemporaries.) The late dating would make it impossible, for example, that any of Y Gododdin could date even as oral tradition from its traditional supposed date, because the rhymes and metre presuppose the final-syllable loss. Kenneth Jackson convincingly showed that this loss had actually already happened by the end of the sixth century.

    Morris-Jones makes the interesting point that the explosion of the plural ending -au (Middle Welsh -eu) from its humble start as proper only to u-stems to being the single most productive plural ending, is seen not only in Welsh but also in Cornish and Breton, and that this development (a) only makes sense if it happened after final syllable loss and (b) is so weird in any case that it beggars belief that it happened three times independently. While this perhaps implies a rather too simple tree model of the relationship of the Brythonic languages to one another, given that they must have remained mutually comprehensible for a good while after they can be distinguished as distinct entities, so that an innovation could have spread between the three even then, it seems much more parsimonious to suppose that the last common ancestor of the Brythonic languages, even if already divided into Welsh/Cornish/Breton dialects, had at that stage already lost its final syllables.

    [An interesting side point: when M-J discusses the Ogam/Latin bilingual monuments found in Wales, he assumes that the Ogam versions are in Brythonic, not Goidelic. I hadn’t realised that the identification of the language as Goidelic was as late as that. The misidentification actually counts against M-J’s argument for early final-syllable loss, and he has to handwave away the non-problem a bit.]

  138. David Eddyshaw says:

    “I have now dealt with the more important northern [i.e. Hen Ogledd] names occurring in the Book of Taliesin, and with Dr Gwenogvryn Evans’s attempt to prove that they denote places on the Welsh border. His argument is a tissue of false reasoning which betrays a mind that has never properly understood what ‘evidence’ or ‘proof’ means.”

    Popcorn!

  139. Stu Clayton says:

    Learnèd Welsh circles appear to have preserved that fine old tradition of getting-in-a-huff. I find it reassuring, in that I myself fly off the handle 24/7 about one thing and another – in suitably superior language, natch.

    In my favorite novel, “… Mrs Spon flounced out of the room. There are not many women now who can do that” .

  140. David Eddyshaw says:

    The tradition is not yet altogether lost. My daughter flounces quite impressively for one no longer in her teens.

    It may be the Welsh heritage. (She bears a startling facial resemblance to her Patagonian ancestress, my great-grandmother Roberts. Probably reincarnation.)

  141. In my favorite novel, “… Mrs Spon flounced out of the room. There are not many women now who can do that” .

    Did you write your favorite novel? Not only does Google Books not turn up anything resembling that quote, I can’t even find a “Mrs Spon.”

  142. My Google-fu led me to this. Looks like stuff I’d enjoy reading. (Google “Mrs. Spon” with the quotation marks and skip obviously non-pertinent results.)

  143. Stu Clayton says:

    Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonflglioli. The passage is paraphrased, but Mrs Spon is real (or at least her name is).

    I’ve been touting that book for over ten years here. I read it first back in the 70s, and since then probably 20 times more.

  144. Thanks, sounds like good reading!

  145. Stu Clayton says:

    It has more casual literary allusions than an eco-dog has fleas.

  146. The champion of Welsh huff-getter-inners was C.S. Lewis’s dad:

    He had for many years been a public prosecutor. Words came to him and intoxicated him as they came. What actually happened was that a small boy who had walked on damp grass in his slippers or left a bathroom in a pickle found himself attacked with something like Cicero on Catiline, or Burke on Warren Hastings; simile piled on simile, rhetorical question on rhetorical question, the flash of an orator’s eye and the thundercloud of an orator’s brow, the gestures, the cadences and the pauses. The pauses might be the chief danger. One was so long that my brother, quite innocently supposing the denunciation to have ended, humbly took up his book and resumed his reading; a gesture which my father (who had after all only made a rhetorical miscalculation of about a second and a half) not unnaturally took for “cool, premeditated insolence”.

  147. Stu Clayton says:

    Compare with the cool, premeditated head-fucks administered by a father in a Compton-Burnett household. I admire her construction of deadly dialogues (monologues, more like), but can hardly bear to read them because I grew up in such a ditto.

  148. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ivy Compton-Burnett’s world is feral. Dostoevsky, nothing.

  149. David Eddyshaw says:

    @prase:

    I was just reading John Morris-Jones Cerdd Dafod (a treatise on Welsh poetics), and discovered that pp238-240 are dedicated to listing dozens of words in which wy is falling or rising, for the benefit of Welsh speakers, who are accordingly presumed not to know either.

    So I wouldn’t worry …

    I should perhaps explain that JM-J’s work is highly prescriptive, not only when he’s talking about traditional Welsh poetry, where it’s obviously appropriate, but throughout his actual grammatical works; indeed, his avowed object was to a great extent to rescue correct Welsh from the perversions of modernity. Part of the animus in his catfight with Gwenogvryn Evans above was that he continually implies that Evans didn’t really know Welsh. This did not go down well with Evans (who didn’t actually learn English until he was nineteen.)

    Morris-Jones’ attitude was entirely characteristic of those who knew Literary Welsh to those who were mere untutored actual Welsh speakers. The English translation of Stephen Williams’ (literary) Welsh grammar says “the many references to colloquial and dialect words and expressions are intended sometimes for comparison of spoken and written forms, and sometimes to draw attention to debased colloquial usages.” Published 1980.

  150. David Eddyshaw says:

    It [Don’t Point That Thing At Me] has more casual literary allusions than an eco-dog has fleas.

    I am utterly impervious to the charms of Browning, who (alas) figures in so many of the epigraphs, but I was impressed to see a snippet of Persius. (In Latin, of course.) I may need to read the series.

  151. David Eddyshaw says:

    As Tennyson (no less) said of Sordello:

    There were only two lines in it that I understood, and they were both lies; they were the opening and closing lines, ‘Who will may hear Sordello’s story told,’ and ‘Who would has heard Sordello’s story told.’

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sordello_(poem)

  152. John Cowan says:

    Morris-Jones’ attitude was entirely characteristic of those who knew Literary Welsh to those who were mere untutored actual Welsh speakers.

    “Most languages are dramatically underdescribed, and at least one is dramatically overdescribed. Still other languages are simultaneously overdescribed and underdescribed. Welsh pertains to the third category.” —Alan King

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