Recently a couple of squash friends in Santa Fe emailed about the etymology of the word boast.

My Oxford English Dictionary starts off by listing the ancient spellings of the word, which can be found before the year 1300. “Their mutual relation and origin are unknown,” it says, almost throwing up their hands. “Various conjectures and comparisons may be seen in Wedgwood and E. Muller, but nothing to purpose.”

Love that: nothing to purpose.

The term, squash-wise, originates in court tennis, the ancient game that has been played for a thousand years. But where did tennis get boast? The OED suggests a couple of origins. My favorite is the masonry term boast, which is to pare stone irregularly with a broad chisel and  mallet. In other words, to smooth stone. That feels right, as least as far as my reverse volley double boast used to be concerned.

The other term is one from sculpture, meaning to “shape a block roughly before putting in details.” That might be my trickle boast.

A common origin is thought to be bosse, the French word for swelling or relief or bump, as in the art term ronde bosse or “full relief.” This was an encrusted enameling technique that became popular at the same time that tennis did, in the fourteenth century. Ronde bosse, the OED says with a dismissive nod, “has been suggested but with little apparent fitness.”

Until a word historian puts this to rights, I tend to side with the masons not the enamelers.

2 thoughts on “Boast”

  1. So, but there’s also this….

    boast (n.)

    mid-13c., “arrogance, presumption, pride”; c. 1300, “a brag, boastful speech,” from Anglo-French bost “ostentation,” probably from a Scandinavian source (compare Norwegian baus “proud, bold, daring”), from Proto-Germanic *bausia “to blow up, puff up, swell”, from PIE *bhou-.

    boast (v.)

    mid-14c., “to brag, speak arrogantly,” from Anglo-French, from the same source as boast (n.). Meaning “speak with pride” is late 14c. Sense of “glory or exult in possessing” (something) is from 1540s; that of “possess something remarkable or admirable” is from 1690s.

    Any chance that the term came into use to reflect some combination of prideful possession??? Could those two- or three-wall re-directions of the black rubber sphere echo Proto-Indo-European notions of bragadocious behavior??? (In full disclosure, my own execution of this shot is seldom worthy of praise.)

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