Play, sport, & compete
What does etymology tell us about play, sport, & competition?
Sport came into English in the 1500s meaning both a pleasant pastime & a game involving physical exercise. In the 1660s, Shakespeare crowned war-making the sport of kings. By the 1880s the noun, sport, came to mean good fellow in American English, while down under, the word sport grew to become a way to address a man (1935).
Play comes from the Old English plegian, to exercise, frolic, or perform music. Its Middle Dutch ancestor, plegan, meant to rejoice or be glad. Some play-based idioms include:
mid-1500s to play fair
1861 to play for keeps
1886 to play the ___card
1896 to play with oneself
1902 to play favorites
1909 to play up
1911 to play it safe
1930 to play down
1936 to play the field
Also, in 1959 Play-Dough was born.
The word compete came to English in the early 1600s. Centuries beforehand, it started as the Latin word competere, where it initially meant to come together, to agree, or to be qualified. In Late Latin competere came to mean to strive in common. On its way through French to English its meaning shifted to mean to be in rivalry with.
Good followers, I’m hoping you’ll have something to say about play, sport, or competition.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, Mad Music, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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