The name of the game

I have a confession to make. In the odd idle moment, of which I of course have very few (ahem), I play card games online. These are not gambling games I hasten to add. One site I use is and one of the games I play is whist.

A few days ago it occurred to me to ask myself why it is called whist. Here is a possible answer from the OED. Whist is an interjection calling for silence. It is apparently still used in some dialects of English, sometimes in the form whisht. One of the OED’s references is from 1680 and this mentions that it “is called Whist from the silence that is to be observed in the play”.

How about bridge then? The OED says:

Etymology unascertained; probably of Levantine origin, since some form of the game appears to have been long known in the Near East; the origin of the seemingly Russian forms biritch, britch, is unknown; an unrecorded Turkish form *bir-üç ‘one-three’ (since one hand is exposed and three concealed) was postulated as the source in Notes & Queries (1969)

Both of the above games have trumps, which the OED says is a corruption of the word triumph.

Canasta may well have been invented as recently as the 1940s in Montevideo. The OED tells us:

from Spanish canasta (apparently a1948 denoting both the card game and the set of seven cards of the same rank which players aim to complete), specific use of canasta basket (beginning of the 14th cent.; ultimately < ancient Greek κάναστρον : see canister n.), the game being so called on account of the basket which was originally used to hold the undealt and discarded cards.

I could go on, but I won’t, you will be relieved to hear.

Photo credit: Graham Main/MOD, used under this licence.

Hogus Again and How(e)

Photo credit: Tim Bekaert. The image is in the public domain.

In the light of what follows the idea that the word hogus has a Cornish derivation must be abandoned, I think.

Mr. Pengelly refers the name ” Hogus,” now applied to the rocky ledge between Marazion and the Mount, to an old Scandinavian derivation, meaning “a rock in or near a wood adjacent to water, and used for sacrificial purposes.”

Mr. Peacock takes exception to this determination on the ground that Hogus (in Guernsey hougue, French hogue, neo-Latin hoga) sometimes denotes a quarriable knoll, of which he gives examples.

This is a quote from page 11 of a work entitled The Recent Geology of Cornwall by W.A.E.Ussher. It was first published in the Geological Magazine in 1879.

In a sense Mr Pengelly and Mr Peacock were both right. Mr Pengelly’s rather fanciful notion is correct inasmuch as it identifies the word as old Scandinavian. Mr Peacock’s words derive from this, presumably via Norman French. The word in question is the Old Norse haugr, which according to the OED means ‘mound’ or ‘cairn’. It has descendants or cognates in many languages including English, where it turns up as how, howe, hough, or houe. This means ‘a hill’ or ‘a mound’.

What you can see in the picture above is Maeshowe, a Neolithic chambered cairn on Mainland Orkney. It is mentioned in The Orkneyinga Saga, where it is called Orkhaugr – ‘great tomb’.

Rocks and pasties

Last Friday we went out to lunch at the Godolphin Arms Hotel in Marazion. It’s marked as 5 on the aerial view above. The food, the service and the view were wonderful. Unfortunately, the weather was not. From where we sat in the dining room we could see Chapel Rock (4 above) which stands near the landward end of the causeway from St Michael’s Mount (3). When we first sat down, the causeway was uncovered, but pretty soon the tide started washing over it. A group of people were messing about on top of Chapel Rock and suddenly there was a great rush to get off. I reckon that they would have been stranded if they had left it just one minute later. It just goes to show how careful you have to be with the sea and why people are always getting into trouble. Before we left, I encountered some rather soggy lads in the gents’ loo trying to get dry.

In a post about Cornish placenames in 2009 I am afraid I goofed and provided a picture of Chapel Rock and called it Great Hogus. Great Hogus and Little Hogus are at 2 and 1 respectively in the aerial view. I am still uncertain about the meaning and derivation of the word hogus. There is a Cornish word hoggan. Here is what the OED has to say under the entry for the word oggy (= ‘pasty’):

Probably an alteration (see -y suffix6, with loss of initial h-) of Cornish hoggan pastry, pie (18th cent.), further etymology uncertain; perhaps a specific use (via a sense ‘lump of dough’) of an otherwise unattested cognate of Breton hogenn pile, heap, or perhaps cognate with Welsh chwiogen muffin, simnel-cake (15th cent.), of unknown origin.

It’s a bit of a jump from hogus to hoggan, but that’s the best I can come up with.

Photo credit: Ordnance Survey

Mervyn Peake

I have just been re-reading bits of Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. It is not a work noted for comedy, but I came across one sentence which made me laugh out loud:

But both the Doctor and his sister found that the Ladies Cora and Clarice had not been paying the slightest attention but had been staring at Steerpike more in the manner of a wall staring at a man than a man staring at a wall.

Definitely a “I wish I had written that” sort of sentence.

I have searched for a copyright-free picture of Peake, but I came up against what you can see in the picture above. The Wikipedia entry has a photo of him though.

Photo credit:Jonathan Riley. Used under this licence.