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Word for Wednesday: Chess

In this week’s blog, I’ve decided to celebrate a game that, embarrassingly, is new to me this summer. I mean, I’ve been around almost two decades and have still only played it twice – winning once and losing once. Admittedly, my victory was against an eleven-year-old child, who, to be honest, probably let me win. The game is a classic case of ‘simple to learn, difficult to master’. In fact, the world tournament dishes out prizes of between one and two million dollars annually.

Of course I’m referring to one of the world’s most popular and intricate games: Chess.

Chess has been around since the 6th century but the modern rules first evolved in the Middle Ages with only minor changes up until the 19th century. Visually, the game has remained pretty much consistent, and there are some beautifully crafted variations of the standard pieces including the famous Bauhaus variants – see here

So, where does the word chess originate? Like so many other English words its meaning is derived from French. The Old French ‘esches’ comes from the most important move in the game, Checkmate.

Interestingly, Etymology Online cites the Sanskrit chaturanga meaning ‘’four members of an army’’. Although chess features six different classes, this is an interesting link to the origin of the word.

So there you have it, Sanskrit, French and English rolled into one. If you don’t mind I have a lot of catching up to do, and most likely, an awful lot of losing…

Hugh MacDermott

28 Aug 2013
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