Monday, February 17, 2014

Hockey on the Rocks

The United States men’s and women’s hockey teams have both played well in the winter Olympics--on ice, of course. The unadorned word hockey in North America and Europe generally refers to the sport played on an ice rink, but it was originally played on a grassy field, and the grassy version, or field hockey, is still the national sport of India and Pakistan. The icy variety is Canada’s favorite pastime. 

The origin of the word hockey is uncertain, with the first known usage in English occurring in 1527, when a manuscript referred to “the horlinge of the litill balle with hockie stickes of staves.”  (No prizes for spelling in those days.)  The next appearance of the word in print is not until two and a half centuries later.  Was no one playing the game during that time, or did people just not want to talk about it?

In any event, the origin of the word is probably the French hoquet, meaning a “shepherd’s staff or crook,” alluding to the stick used in hockey, which is crooked. Hoquet derives from Old French hoc (“hook”), which migrated to Old English as hōc.

Hockey ought not to be confused with hooky, which appears almost exclusively in the phrase play hooky and means to absent oneself from school without permission. The phrase probably derives from a nineteenth-century slang expression, hook it, meaning to “clear out.”  As for the origin of hook it, your guess is as good as mine or Webster’s.

You could of course play hooky to play hockey.  But that would be hokey.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has been playing hooky (certainly not hockey) all his life, and this is all he has to show for it:

            A jailer, a judge, and a jockey
            Decided they’d like to play hockey,
                        And to save a few bucks,
                        In place of real pucks
            They used extra large pieces of gnocchi.

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