Game, Set and Match

As a child in the 1960s, life was more innocent. No endless provision of entertainment. We were meant to get bored. This caused us to be imaginative, as we were often left in a field with a bit of straw and a stone, and then a game would immerge from that.

For children historically there have been some interesting inventions born from boredom, such as way-zaltin (Somerset dialect) in which two persons standing back to back interlace each other’s arms and by bending forward alternately raise each other from the ground; hot cockles (1580) a rustic game in which one player lay face downwards, or knelt down with his eyes covered, and being struck by the others in turn, guessed who struck him and hinch-pinch (1603) a game where one person hits another softly; then the other player hits back with a little more force, and each subsequent blow in turn is harder until it becomes a real fight.

The English language has plenty of words to describe sports and pastimes, among which are:

notaphily (1970): the collecting of paper currency as a hobby.

gricer (UK slang, 1968): a railway enthusiast; a trainspotter.

deltiologist (1959): a collector of picture postcards.  

cartophily (1936): the hobby of collecting cigarette cards

cruciverbalist (US slang, 1981): a crossword puzzle addict.  

These days, of course, the young appear utterly glued to their game sets, mobiles and internet — and other tech-based pastimes:

tamagotchi (Japanese): a loveable egg, or a handheld digital pet that copies the demands for food or attention of a real pet.

dingdong (Indonesian): computer games in an arcade.

tölva (Icelandic): computer, formed from the words for number and prophetess. 

Since the start of time, the desire to fill time has resulted in a wide range of recreations. Simplest are the games played by children the world over:

knappan (Welsh): a game where each side tries to drive a wooden ball as far as possible in one direction.

kula’i wawae (Hawaiian): the pushing of one’s feet against others while seated.

kængurustylte (Danish): a pogo stick (literally, kangaroo stilt).

kapana (Setswana, Botswana): to catch each other with  both hands when taking turns to fall from a height.

mmamadikwadikwane (Setswana, Botswana): a game in which a child spins around until dizzy; it’s also the term for ballroom dancing.

There are games that are highly specific to their culture and environment, such as the Inuit igunaujannguaq that literally means “frozen walrus carcass.” This is a game where the person in the center tries to remain stiff and is held in place by the feet of the people who are sitting in a circle. He is passed around hand over hand. Whoever drops him is the next “frozen walrus carcass.”

As for the methods employed to get ahead, they range from the underhand to the truly bizarre: poki (Cook Islands Maori), to deal cards from the bottom of the pack (i.e. unfairly); sirind (Persian), entangling legs in wrestling to trip your opponent (also a noose for catching prey by the foot) and most intriguingly kynodesme (Ancient Greek), tying a string around the foreskin to stop the penis getting in the way during athletics (literally, putting the dog on a lead).