Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The meaning of the word BOUT

A post from the Roller-girls yahoo group pointed me to this explanation of the word bout from today's Podictionary :
This episode is all about violence and drinking.

A listener sent me a question asking why the sport of roller derby referred to their events as bouts. He forwarded another email purportedly from someone who calls herself Bully Julie who skates with the San Diego Derby Dolls. I looked them up and indeed there is such a team and such a skater.

Before getting this email I have to say that I had no idea what a roller derby event was called. I'd have guessed it was called a bout because fights are called bouts and roller derby has that sort of catfight reputation to it, as evidenced by Bully Julie's name. A few of her teammates are in the same vein: Buster Teethin, Cherry Punch and Pearl Knuckles.

But I dutifully opened my dictionaries and what did I find? The name bout is even more appropriate than I thought for roller derby. The first meanings of this word appeared about 500 years ago and those meanings were related to going around in a circuit; the parent word meaning to "turn" or "bend." So those skaters zipping around and around while simultaneously pummeling each other are engaging in a bout from both senses of the word. What could be more perfect—etymologically anyway.

This sense of doing a circuit during Shakespeare's time meant that when a farmer did a bout he took his horse down the length of the field and back, pulling the plow once around before starting his next bout. Shakespeare himself used the word with its fighting sense in Henry VI.

A bout of drinking came a little later, but still more than 300 years ago and I see no evidence if it had to do with buying rounds or getting in fights. There's a curious—should I say—circularity to the fact that people also sometimes say they've been on a bender if they've been out drinking. The Oxford English Dictionary says this was originally American slang with a first citation of about 150 years ago.

Another drinking word that starts with B is binge. People these days sometimes go on eating binges but with this word drinking certainly came before eating. In the days when a cooper was someone who worked in a cooperage and manufactured wooden barrels one of the steps in their manufacture was to soak the completed barrel in water so that the wooden staves would swell. As they plumped up with absorbed water they pushed harder against their neighboring barrel staves and closed up any little cracks that might have existed that would have allowed the barrel to leak. This soaking process was called "putting the barrel to binge." Hence to binge meant to "soak." Barrels were often used for beer and it only makes sense that when drinkers were out soaking up vast quantities of beer they too were said to be binging.

Drinking binges were first so called in the 1850s while eating binges didn't begin until 1937; perhaps by those participating in roller derbies which have a first citation only a year or two before binge eating does.

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