I’m reading another of Valentin Kataev’s fictionalized memoirs of childhood, Кубик (Little Cube: “because it has six faces in three dimensions, or because it’s the name of a dog, or just because”), and he uses the word бильбоке (Wikipedia; stress on the final syllable), which is borrowed from French bilboquet, which has also been borrowed into English as bilboquet \ˌbilbəˈket\, also known as cup and ball. I checked the OED (entry from 1887), and was highly amused by the indignant bracketed remark after the definition:

2. The plaything called Cup-and-ball; the game played with it, which consists in catching the ball either on the cup or spike end of the stick.
[A typical example of popular etymology is afforded by the corruption of -quet = ket, to ketch, catch, so as to associate it with the action of the game; in Bilbao catch we have the more deliberate perversion of pseudo-scholarship.]

Here are the citations, which show a pleasing variety of forms:

1743 H. Walpole Let. 4 Apr. in Lett. to H. Mann I. 265 To set up the noble game of bilboquet.
1801 M. Edgeworth Good French Governess in Moral Tales V. 26 Bilboquets, battledores, and shuttlecocks.
1808 J. Austen Let. 24 Oct. 150 Bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable.
1812 Monthly Mag. 33 26 He made great use of a bilbao-catch (note, said to have come hither from Bilbao, in Spain, and thence to have its name) or ivory cup and spike.
1832 W. Hone Year Bk. 1297 To the hautboy succeeded the bilbo-catch, or bilver-ketch.
1875 W. D. Parish Dict. Sussex Dial.   Bibler-catch.


  1. In today’s world kendama is the most popular form of the cup-and-ball game. It came to Japan with the Europeans and has developed organizations, elegant apparatus, and skill ratings world-wide.

  2. :

    Bilboquet. Le premier élément du mot est bille i; le second est probablement une forme dialectale de bouche au sens figuré de « ouverture qui reçoit la boule » ; la désinence est le suffixe diminutif -et.

    I think of the word as also referring to ornamentally turned balusters, and inevitably found in paintings by René Magritte.

  3. M-W says:

    French, from Middle French billeboquet, from bille ball (of Germanic origin; akin to Middle High German bickel die, ankle) + bouquer to thrust, from bouc male goat, of Celtic origin; akin to Old Irish bocc male goat

  4. In parts of Montreal it is a metonym for an ice cream cone (after the metaphorical name of a high-end purveyor of such:

  5. Bilboquet / bilboke is also used in Croatian. But to me it sounds a bit like “bajbok” which is a slang word for jail; ultimately deriving from German “bei Wache”.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    The OED are so narrow-minded.

    I didn’t get where I am today without Deliberate Perversions of Pseudo-scholarship.

    (A good title for my Festschrift, if any of my disciples are reading this.)

  7. Kendama

    I knew it sounded familiar.

  8. Bilbocatch sounds like a game for Smaug.

  9. David Marjanović says

    ultimately deriving from German “bei Wache”.

    That’s ungrammatical enough that I’m not sure what it could mean. “Next to guard”?

  10. The logo of the Montréal business, painted on the side of the building, very elegantly illustrates the ice cream cone as the toy.

  11. That’s ungrammatical enough that I’m not sure what it could mean. “Next to guard”?
    I assume what’s meant here is Wache in the sense Polizeiwache “police station”. The Standard would have auf der Wache, but maybe it’s meant to be from the German of Croatian speakers who substitute bei for Croatian u? Or perhaps the etymology from German is bogus?

  12. The etymology is from the Croatian encyclopedic dictionary. It says “bei Wache = pod stražom” meaning “under guard”. Maybe it’s a garbled misheard Austroslavic expression?

  13. David Marjanović says

    “Under guard” would be bewacht, which I suppose is close enough. The greatest mystery here is why [x] would be borrowed as [k] and not as [x]: routed through Italian???

  14. “Under guard” would be bewacht:

    Could the combination [xt] in bewacht turn into [k]?

    But then how does [be] turn into [baj]? How would a 19th century Austrian pronounce bewacht?

  15. David Marjanović says

    Could the combination [xt] in bewacht turn into [k]?

    Not in German in any case.

    How would a 19th century Austrian pronounce bewacht?

    With [ɛ]. But that, I suppose, could at least be confused with bei, which has a somewhat more open [ɛ̞] in eastern Austria (Vienna notably) and [ɛɪ̯] elsewhere. But then that wouldn’t get us to [aj] either, except by convention.

  16. The pronunciation bajbuk is also used in Croatian – does that help at all?

  17. David Marjanović says

    I can’t connect that to anything German off the top of my head.

  18. PlasticPaddy says

    I think we may be over complicating this. The usage may come from an area of villages and small towns, where the only kuk presence is a tiny army barracks. So for any official stuff you go to the barracks and the town drunk is also locked up there when he becomes agressive and needs to sleep it off. You get your business tax number or marriage permit bei (der) wache and tell the drunk’s wife to collect him there.

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    There is (or has been, don’t know about current status amidst pandemic) a fashionable bistro in NYC named Le Bilboquet, known more for its clientele (described here as “the chic and the Euro”; others might say the vulgar and nouveaux riche) than the quality of its food.

    As of 15 or more years ago I knew a woman who was a semi-regular there who referred to it by the nickname “Le Dildoquet.” I’m not sure if that was an original coinage of hers or a common bit of wordplay in relevant circles.

  20. @J.W. Brewer: The technical name for that kind of customers is “Eurotrash.”

  21. Plastic Paddy: What a refreshing approach to etymology.

    If I can suggest a name for your methodology, it would be reductio ad alcoholum. )

  22. Andrej Bjelaković says

    @zyxt and David Marjanović

    Petar Skok’s etymological dictionary says this for bajbok:

    Beiwach(te), [OHG] biwache, biviaht > [in Romance languages] bivac, bivouac.

    Wiktionary adds that the Romance version came from Alemannic German: From bii- +‎ Wacht*. Cognate with obsolete German Beiwacht.

    *From Middle High German wahte, from Old High German wahta, from Proto-West Germanic *wahtu, from Proto-Germanic *wahtwō.

  23. David Marjanović says

    Ah, so routed through Romance after all.

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