Interesting etymology and history of sports words


A podium is a platform used to raise something to a short distance above its surroundings. It derives from the Greek ‘Podi’ meaning foot.


Its origins stem from the Old Saxon word ‘lettian’ which meant to hinder or prevent something from happening.


Martial as in Martial Arts  dates back the Medieval Latin word ‘martialis’  meaning “of Mars or war.” Mars, of course  is  the Roman god of war.


The Olympic sport of water polo gets its name from the original form of the sport, which was played on horseback and involved mallets. Polo, itself  was last an Olympic sport in 1936. Polo is a rendering of a Balti Tibetan word, pulu, or “ball,” that is the target of the sport’s swinging mallets.


The word is of Greek origin, from treis (three) and áthlon, meaning “contest” or “prize”.


Badminton gets its modern name from where it was first played in England by the Earl of Badminton, at Badminton House in 1873. Originally the sport was called “Poona” after the Indian city where it was invented before the British soldiers brought it to England.


Javelin throwing was one of the events of the original pentathlon at the ancient Greek Olympics. The historic Hellenes didn’t call it the javelin, they called it akon or akontion .

The Javelin comes from a French word for a “light spear,” Javeline. Where the French javeline comes from, is a bit vague some says it has a Celtic root that means “forked,” and is related to a branch of a tree that spears were first made from.


Somewhat strangely the ancient Olympics didn’t include the Marathon race, it was only after 1896 and the Modern program starting.  Much lore surrounds the historical marathon. A Greek hero ran from Marathon to Athens to announce that Greece was victorious in their battle with Persia. He delivered his message and then died, his feat living on in the word marathon. The distance from Marathon to Athens is said to be 26 miles (42 km). I checked this on Google Maps and not knowing exactly his starting finishing points its difficult to confirm but by foot Google says its about 35km.


Most the weight categories in boxing are obvious. Like heavy weight, Middle weight and lightweight. This one is a little different, Bantamweight apparently takes its name from the bantam, named for a particularly feisty kind of chicken, originally from Bantam in Java.


The pommel refers to one of the handgrips fitted onto the pommel horse, which gymnasts grab in this Olympic and gymnastic event. The grips resemble pommels on the saddles for actual horses, which jut out, knob-like, from the front. These get their name from the French word ‘pommel’ meaning “little apple.” The root is from Latin word ‘pomum’, meaning fruit.”


The name is derived from Greek: combining the words pente (five) and áthlon, meaning “contest” or “prize”.


Trampoline is from the Italian ‘trampoli’, meaning “stilts.” Further explanation is unclear  but some think it’s related to the English word tramp, meaning “to stamp around,” and the word that is slang for “vagrant.”


In scull rowing, the athlete propels the boat by pulling two oars at the same time. These oars are known as sculls, a name since given to the kind of boat the rowers use. Scull is a very old word in the English language dating back to as early as 1345. The word skull in old English is a “drinking- bowl.” A few etymologists liken the scooped blade of the scull to the hollow basin of the skull, some say that humans once made these drinking-bowls from actual human skulls.


In the canoe slalom and skiing slalom, fittingly, its name is from a Norwegian word, ‘slalåm’, literally “sloping track.” .


Fencing derives from the French word ‘defence’ which in turn comes from the Latin ‘defendere’, meaning to “drive away.”


The Steeplechase is a 3000-meter event, requiring runners to jump over hurdles and water on the track? The history of this event is that it began on horseback in Ireland, where riders once raced through the countryside, using steeples as distance markers/finish lines and negotiating stone walls, hedges and streams along their way.


Asymmetric bars is the wrong name in the first place because the bars are *not* asymmetric? There is a line of symmetry and they are both the same length and thickness. That’s probably the reason they are now known as the uneven bars.


Biathlon / Bicycle, The prefix ‘bi’ has its derivation from Latin, and its Greek variant di,  both mean “two.” The Latin prefix is far more prevalent in common words, such as biathlon, biceps, and bicycle, the more technical Greek di- appears in such words as dioxide and dilemma.


Why should you never date a tennis player, to them Love means nothing. But according to etymologists, the word love is possibly derived from the French word l’oeuf which literally means egg. If we look at the shape of an ‘egg’ we can see it resembles zero and therefore came to be used when somebody has no score in tennis and other sports.


Jog doesn’t really mean what the popular pastime we enjoy today is, it really means  “to shake up and down,” a bit like jogging your memory, it was perhaps altered from Middle English ‘shoggen’ which means “to shake, jolt or move with a jerk”


The term is a derivative of the word ‘masco’ meaning sorceress or witch. Before the 19th century, the word ‘mascot’ was associated with inanimate objects that would be commonly seen such as a lock of hair or a figurehead on a sailing ship. Now most teams and sports events have their own mascots.


The word derives from Latin ‘harena,’ a particularly fine-grained sand that covered the floor of ancient arenas such as the Colosseum in Rome, to absorb blood and gore.


The word ‘Doping’ which we now associate with cheating in sport comes from the early 19th century in Holland were doop is a ‘sauce’, and from ‘doopen’ which is ‘to dip or mix’.


The stadion was sprint race named after the building in which it took place. This word became stadiom in Latin, which became the English word stadium. There were other types of running events, but the stadion was the most prestigious. The winner was often considered to be the winner of an entire Games. Though a separate event, the stadion was also part of the ancient Pentathlon. The Stadion was big enough for twenty competitors, and the race was a 200-yard (about 180-metre) sprint. The original stadion track in Olympia measures approximately 190 metres.


We are happy to step onto court and hit a ball over the net with a racquet and play a game called tennis, but what does the word tennis actually mean? There have been several attempts to pinpoint the exact origins of the word tennis, but the closest one seems to derive from tenez which is the command form of the French verb Tenir, which means to hold. This is what players in 13th century France would shout out before hitting the ball to their opponent when playing the game ‘jeu de palme.’


The gymnasium (in Ancient Greece functioned as a training facility for competitors in public games. It was also a place for socialising and engaging in intellectual pursuits. That’s why some German high schools are named gymnasiums. In most countries though, it is just used as an athletic area.


A ‘bagel’ is a tennis score of 6-0 in a set. The bagel is the shape of the zero.


We use the word ‘seed’ in sport to avoid big names (based on success)  and teams meeting each other in early rounds of competitions. Seeds are planted into the draw and so it is known where certain players or teams will be. Seeding is used in numerous sports, such as Tennis, Squash, American Football Playoff, Champions League Football.


To hit an unreturnable serve in tennis. The origin of the tennis meaning of this word dates back to around the 18th Century where an Ace in cards meant excellence. It was also a number 1 and so became synonymous with a single unplayable shot like a serve.


The name comes from the Ancient Greek term gymnós meaning “naked”.


If you listen to the pronunciation ‘juice’ you could forgive yourself for thinking that this word means to be in a ‘tight squeeze’ at 40 points each. But alas the origins of this tennis word seem to be again from the French language where the term a deux de jeux means to be two points away from the game.


Serving has it roots in Tennis and royalty. Some players didn’t want to bend down and pick balls up and so would have their servants throw the ball to start the rally.


The word boycott entered the English language during the Irish “Land War” and derives from Captain Charles Boycott, the land agent of an absentee landlord, Lord Erne, who lived in County Mayo, Ireland. He was the subject to social ostracism organized by the Irish Land League in 1880.


After Achilles was born, his mother wanted to protect him from harm. She held him by the heel and dipped him into the river Styx. In Greek Mythology, the river Styx was located in the Underworld and had special powers. Achilles became invulnerable everywhere but at his heel where his mother held him.


This is a funny word. Literally, as its early meaning derives from the Old English word ‘lobbes’ which meant clown. And there’s no funnier sight to see, than drawing your opponent into the net and lobbing the ball over their head seeing them scramble back after it.


The Moors of Northern Africa ruled the area of the Iberian peninsula known as Spain for nearly 700 years. Their language was Arabic, its influence on the Spanish language is significant. One of those words is Olé.

Ancient traditions among many Moors were to have great celebrations that included dancing. When a dancer performed at the highest levels of grace and intensity, for that moment, they were believed to be vessels through which Allah was acting, and the moment allowed the witnesses to see a glimpse of Allah’s power through the artist. So, it was customary for the Moors of Northern Africa centuries ago to exclaim Allah! Over the time and many centuries this became Ole and is used not only in the barbaric activity (I won’t call it sport) of Bullfighting but it is also by spectators celebrating beautiful sport. The Brazilians crowds were first to use it whilst watching Garrincha.


The word “sport” comes from the Old French word ‘desport’ meaning “leisure”.


The word muscle has its roots  from the Latin word ‘musculus’, which itself is a diminutive of ‘mus’ meaning ‘mouse’. Some people used to describe muscles as little mice moving about under the skin.


The muscle literally means ‘two-headed’, from bi- ‘two’ + -ceps which itself comes from the latin caput meaning ‘head’.


A volley in 1570 meant the firing of a number of guns at the same time. late 16th century: from French volée, based on Latin volare ‘to fly’. A volley in sport eventually became hitting the object before it had finished flying.


There are a couple of ‘monoceps’ but no one talk about these. The Sphincter muscle is one and it only has one head.


Tournament has its roots from Old French ‘tornement’ which was a contest between groups of knights on horseback.


Spectator comes from the Latin spectātor, which derives from spectō “watch”, from speciō meaning to “look at”.


The name Colosseum is believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero that once stood nearby. It comes from the Greek word ‘kolossos’, meaning “gigantic statue.”


A hat trick in sport is commonly getting three of something. A goal in football, being struck out in Baseball three times in a game, three consecutive motor racing wins, in marbles hitting all the marbles in a single turn etc etc.

Hat trick come originally from Cricket when a bowler would get three wickets from consecutive balls. A long time ago the bowlers would all wear caps. And the bowler in celebration of the three outs in consecutive balls would perform a trick with the hat as way of celebration.


The “funny bone” got its nickname because of that funny feeling you get after you hit it. The bone itself is called the Humerus hence the funny bone.  Running down the inside part of your elbow is a nerve called the ulnar nerve and this is the part of the reason things hurt so much when you bang your funny bone!


The Greeks threw diskos, while the Romans threw discus. Both diskos and discus referred to various “round, flat objects” and alsoused to describe the “face” of the sun. At the root of the Greek diskos is a verb meaning “to throw” or “cast.”


Calf as in a baby cow and calf as in our lower leg probably come from the same root. One of the roots listed for calf is “to swell.” The shape of swelling from pregnancy and the shape of the lower leg have similar shapes.

The calf is comprised of two muscles — the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles meet at the Achilles tendon, which attaches directly to the heel. Any leg or foot motion uses these muscles. Not exactly what you asked for, but the actual muscle name is Gastrocnemius. Which is Greek for stomach + leg.


The quadricep has four muscles making it up and their heads attach in four places. The quadriceps muscles are your;

  • Rectus femoris,
  • Vastus lateralis,
  • Vastus medialis,
  • Vastus intermedius.


The word sponsor see its roots from sponsus, past participle of spondere ” meaning to give assurance or promise solemnly,”


A Prize comes the from the old French word ‘pris’ meaning price, value, worth; reward.


Win come from Old English ‘winnan’, meaning to fight, endure or struggle.


It is the main acid produced in the souring of milk by bacteria, although the lactic acid produced by bacteria and that produced by animals are molecular mirror-images. Lactic gets its name from the Latin word ‘lac’, and its genitive lactis meaning milk.

Lactic acid, or lactate, is a chemical byproduct of anaerobic respiration, the process by which cells produce energy without oxygen around. Bacteria produce it in yogurt and our guts.  Lactic acid is also in our blood, where it’s deposited by muscle and red blood cells.


The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’.


Recuperate is from the Latin word of recuperare “to get again,”


Athlete comes from the Latin athleta who was “a wrestler, athlete, combatant in public games.” Athletes in ancient Greece were “prizefighter, contestant in the games,”


The word “decathlon” was formed from the Greek word déka, meaning “ten” and áthlon, meaning “contest” or “prize”.


The word “ambidextrous” is derived from the Latin roots ambi-, meaning “both”, and dexter, meaning “right” or “favorable”. Thus, “ambidextrous” is literally “both right” or “both favorable”.


A heptathlon is a track and field combined events contest made up of seven events. The name derives from the Greek hepta (seven) and áthlon, meaning “contest” or “prize”.  A competitor in a heptathlon is referred to as a heptathlete.

LOSE  now this is quite an interesting one for me, because I have heard about this word. It’s the word that describes others when I play them, but having no first hand knowledge of it I thought I would investigate it a little

To ‘lose’ comes either from the old English ‘losian’ meaning “to be lost or perish,” and/or ‘los’ which means “destruction, loss.” These in turn may well have come from the  Old Norse word ‘los’, meaning “the breaking up of an army;”


The word etymology derives from the Greek word (étumon), meaning “true sense or sense of a truth”, and the suffix ology means ‘the study of.’


According to Scottish golf lore, the term caddy is derived from the French word, “le cadet.” This term means, “the boy,” or, “youngest of the family.”


Golf, usually taken as an alteration of Middle Dutch colf, colve meaning stick, club or bat.


Fore is from old English meaning before, in front of. Used in other words like forecourt. In golf, fore is shouted to warn others in front of you of wayward shots. Along time ago in golf a fore caddy was used to go infornt of the player to watch where the ball finished up.

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