Bandalore, Yo-yo.

The eudæmonist has a fine post called Diabolo, l’emigrette & la dame de pique that begins fetchingly as follows:

It’s always the way of things, you are merrily reading a newly acquired translation of Pushkin’s ‘Queen of Spades’ instead of starting your workday, and as you are waiting for the Countess to return from the ball in section three and encounter the not particularly pleasant Hermann (not quite Germain), you observe, with Pushkin, with Hermann, the decorations in the Countess’s room – the porcelain shepherdesses, the trinket boxes, the fans, the bandalores.² The bandalores? The bandalores – ah, yes, the yo-yos.³ This seems like an odd addition to a lady’s tchotchkes, so you consult a second translation (because of course you have more than one to hand), which translates the word in question as ‘tops’.⁴ This seems less objectionable as bric-à-brac, but now that you’re looking into the matter you simply must know: what on earth was Pushkin talking about? In consulting with a learned colleague, you learn that Pushkin used the word рулетки (note the plural), which despite its similarity to roulette (which would keep up the gambling theme) the ever (over) helpful lexicographer Dahl defines as a ‘French toy’ on a cord that sounds very much like a yo-yo.⁵ […]

The matter could end there – you know what Pushkin meant, after all – but you feel that you should add that the OED is not particularly helpful on the bandalore, hazarding no speculation on its origins and taking a limited view of its history. The entry does include a reference to an 1864 issue of The Athenæum which mentions Thomas Moore’s gossip about the Duke of Wellington toying with a bandalore (originally published in Blackwood’s), as well as another quotation indicating that even in 1824 a bandalore was a sadly ‘gone-by’ toy, such as an old bachelor’s servant might use to divert an irruption of children. This incidentally makes it plausible for a countess to have a few lying around circa 1833/4 – which would be of a piece with the rest of her out-of-date style.

This does not, however, give you much of a sense of when or or where or why the bandalore was a fashion, and the word keeps running through your head, spinning away only to whirl back again, so you delay the beginning of your work still further to find some seven or more references, including a letter from Horace Walpole to Miss Mary Berry dated 12 October 1790, in which the toy/game is mentioned: ‘I have dined to-day at Bushy with the Guilfords, where were only the two daughters, Mr. Storer, and Sir Harry Englefield, who performed en professeur at the game I thought Turkish, but which sounds Moorish; he calls it Bandalore.’ [N.b.: I have added the italics for Bandalore based on the printed version at the link — LH.] There is also the deeply dull Dramatic dialogues for the use of young persons (1792) by Elizabeth Sibthorpe Pinchard, in which bandalores are called ‘Prince of Wales’s toys’ because ‘They are all the faſhion. The Prince of Wales brought them in’ (pp. 10–11).⁶ Sixteen-year-old Mary Spilsbury exhibited a painting of ‘The bandalore, or fashionable toy’ at the Royal Academy, also in 1792.⁷

There is much more, including the French term l’emigrette and “the diabolo, another string-and-bobbin based toy which, according to the 1911 Britannica, originated in China and was popular in France around 1812 as le diable” (not to mention the footnotes and some colorful images); the only one of the terms I was familiar with was yo-yo, and I am struck by the fact that neither it nor bandalore has a known etymology, though for the former the OED says, rather irritatingly, “probably from one of the Philippines languages.” (As for the latter, I beg leave to doubt the statement at the M-W entry that its Look-up Popularity is “Top 26% of words.”)


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I have owned diabolos, although I don’t think I do at the moment – they turn up on sale here as old-fashioned toys along with marbles and peeries and things. The Museum of Childhood’s shop could probably sell you one.

    I feel like it’s a while (even allowing for this year) since I’ve seen a busker doing tricks with one, though, so maybe they’re out of fashion at the moment.

  2. A 1791 illustration of a French gentlewoman with a bandalore can be seen here:

  3. It’s also in the eudæmonist post.

  4. Diabolos are popular among jugglers today. The addition of ball bearings has increased the range of performance. shows a world champion.

  5. @david: That was a really impressive performance!—although I would really have preferred if they hadn’t kept messing with the video speed. I personally think it juggling and similar activities are best appreciated in real time.

  6. So it is! Moral: read more, google less.

  7. This has nothing to do with yo-yo, but I just went and read again The Queen of Spades. There are 7 short chapters in the story and each has an epigraph, some of them are pretty funny. The best, of course, is a short verse outlining chapter 1, I am not going to reproduce it, because I cannot do it justice in translation, but it is very good (I mean, I know, it’s Pushkin, but still).
    Chapter 5: That night the late Baroness von W*** appeared to me. She was dressed in white and she said: “How are you, Councillor?” — Swedenborg
    Chapter 6: — Attendez! — How dare you tell me “Attendez!”? — Your Exellency, I said “Attendez, sir!” (атанде-с)

  8. Pushkin wrote in an era when people read books aloud to each other. How did one pronounce “баронесса фон В***” or “графиня ***”, or other coyly dashed and asterisked proper names in 19th century Russian literature?

  9. @Brett Absolutely, I agree. I think people do that so the muggles can see what is happening. Here’s Hiroko Kamei without post-processing before an audience more able to appreciate the skills involved.

  10. Lars Mathiesen says

    Those things were djævlespil here for the longest time (obvious calque), but now all the shops call them diabolo, for the google hits I guess. (Kids seeing the English on tiktok). ObGrumble.

  11. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Having thought about it, I would definitely say (and probably write) ‘diablo’ – I don’t think it ever really occurred to me that they were supposed to be diabolical.

  12. PlasticPaddy says


    In rainy weather
    they gather together
    to play.
    To double – redouble –
    a stake was no trouble,
    they say.
    They did not find it hard
    to entrust to a card
    their pay,
    So no day of rain
    ever slipped by in vain,
    they say.

    translated by Robert Chandler

    А в ненастные дни
    Собирались они
    Гнули — бог их прости! —
    От пятидесяти
    На сто,
    И выигрывали,
    И отписывали
    Так, в ненастные дни,
    Занимались они

    I am happier with:

    The gang would gather
    On days of bad weather
    A lot.
    At each doubled bet
    God save us, they’d get
    So hot.
    As winnings were counted,
    The debts quickly mounted
    So on days of bad weather
    They all learned together
    The trade.

  13. PlasticPaddy, I don’t even know how to judge these translation. The original, for me, has a rythm and feel of a song. Also, no one translated “from fifty to hundred” where doubling is not a spectacular thing, but the amounts. This, probably, is lost completely. It is incomprehensible in both languages (I guess, they raised bets from 50 to 100 rubles, very large money at the time).

    I looked into it a bit more and apparently Pushkin wrote the verse 5 years or so before the story, and it was about his friends.

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