Pleased as a Psychopathic Child’s Puppet

Hello Bologna readers. I hope you all had a great weekend. Here’s something to start your week off.

Pleased as Punch: when you hear it, it sounds like an expression that’s a little old fashioned, like “cool beans,” “that’s the ticket,” or some other phrase from the 1930s & 1940s. In reality, the saying, which is another way of describing how pleased you are, dates much further back than that.

In the 1500s, there was no TV, no radio & there were no movies. On top of the this, many people were illiterate, so entertainment had to be found in other things. Children, in particular, found much of their fun in puppet shows. The phrase “Pleased as Punch” has a history that goes back to one of these shows, which began in Italy as a marionette show. The original star was a character named Pulcinella. Always shown wearing a black mask, he was mean & conniving, often pretending to be stupid & inept to weasel his way into things. This proved to be extremely popular with children & it soon spread across Europe & into England, where the character’s name became Punchinello. In time, the character, Joan, was added as Punchinello’s wife & the comedy took off.

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The Italian Pulcinella, complete with black face mask. (Image in public domain)

Eventually, this transformed into an even more popular puppet show called Punch & Judy, & it quickly became a part of the youth culture in seaside towns. You can still catch performances in these villages today.

The show features an ugly, red-nosed puppet named Mr. Punch. He is joined by his wife, Judy, who usually doesn’t stick around for long. The scenes are quick & they change from show to show, constantly keeping children supplied with new stories.

There usually isn’t much of a story arc, which is an intentional tactic to allow people walking down the street to join & leave mid-show. Most of the stories focus on Punch, with his wife, Judy, playing a secondary role. A typical show usually starts with Judy asking Punch to look after their baby, a job at which Punch is terrible. Judy arrives later & in finding out the Punch has screwed up, gets very angry. Upon hearing the commotion, a police officer arrives, the plot becomes extremely open ended, & then everything just goes nuts.

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown (Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown
(Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

The reason Judy doesn’t stay in the show for long is because Punch is a hilariously sociopathic killer, who takes great pleasure unleashing his endless supply of serial-killing on people with a giant wooden stick called, you guessed it, a slapstick. Judy & the baby are, more often than not, the first to go. After each kill, Punch becomes delighted & very happy with himself, exclaiming in his high-pitched voice, “That’s the way to do it!”

You can watch a performance of Punch & Judy here.

So as it turns out, every time you say you’re pleased as Punch, you’re not referring to that fizzy, sometimes-alcoholic fruit drink you find at a party; you’re actually saying that you’re as happy as a sociopathic, baseball bat-wielding murder-puppet would be, after a fresh kill.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

 

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English Chamber Orchistra, Conducted by Johannes Somary: J.S. Bach- The Brandenburg Concertos (1-6 Complete)

Updates:
The Animals- Boom Boom EP (Columbia, reissued by ABKCO): This one was an interesting find. I bought it two weeks ago at Newbury Comics. I guess only about 1,400 were pressed. I was pretty lucky to find it.

The Decemberists- The King is Dead (Capitol): Back at Newbury again. The store near my parents’ house is small & doesn’t really have the best selection, but every once in a while, I find something I love. This is one of my favorite albums of all time, so when I saw it, I had to get it.

NOTE: After this post, I’m going to start doing my updates a little differently. I’ll posting a link to my page called, “The Record Collection.” Here, you can see my entire collection, complete with links to reviews I’ve written.

 

English Chamber Orchestra, Conducted by Johannes Somary: J.S. Bach- The Brandenburg Concertos (1-6, Complete):
I fell in love with these works about five years ago, in a music history class. The one that stood out to me was the Brandenburg Concerto N0.3 in G Major. I immediately went home sought out the entire collection on iTunes & since then, they’ve become my go-to classical pieces, when I feel like listening. Since then, they’ve continued to fascinate me the most out of any classical music.

Jump forward five years.

If I know there’s a used record shop around, I’m stopping in. Period. Northampton, Massachusetts is no different, with Turn it Up!. This place is absolutely great. As you walk in, it smells the way a record store that sells used vinyl should: like old dusty cardboard. Half the store consists of CDs & cassettes, while the other half is where you can find the LPs. If I were a kid, that half of the store would be my candy shop.

Anyway, during a trip to Northampton for a Stephen Kellogg show, we made a pit stop & I picked up three or four records. I was all set to leave, when I glanced over to see my lovely girlfriend at the dollar bin, holding an old, extremely dusty, ex-library-owned copy of a Sesame Street record. I smiled at the sight (she’s in school to be a children’s librarian) & in realizing I had forgotten to check there, I headed over.

For those of you who haven’t seen a record store dollar bin, this part of the shop is a small shelf which is full of records that most people aren’t looking to buy & ones that aren’t in very good condition. Needless to say, my hopes weren’t too high. I flipped through the old records & found a US release of Rubber Soul. The cover was ripped & the record was in atrocious condition, so I moved on.

After a few minutes of rummaging through the seemingly bottomless pile of vinyl & cardboard, I finally came across a fairly inconspicuous looking double album. For some reason, instead of flipping past it, I picked it up. To my surprise, it was a recording of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in their entirety. My favorite classical pieces for a dollar? Absolutely. I scooped the record up immediately & added it to the bunch of records I was about to buy.

 

History:
I’d be lying to you if I were to tell you I’m an expert on any classical music from any era. I never studied it in any depth & I sure don’t know how to play it. That being said, here’s a little history on my favorite composer & my favorite of his collections.

The Brandenburg Concerto collection was given & dedicated to Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, which was then a region of Prussia. Originally, titled, Six Concerts avec Plusieurs Instruments (French for: Six Concerts with Many Instruments) was presented in 1721, but most likely written beforehand.

Some sources claim that, despite their widespread acclaim today, Bach may never have heard the works performed. Shortly after presenting them to his commissioner, he took up a position as music director in the city of Leipzig. The composer would remain there until his death in 1750. Once there, the music he made in the many of the prominent churches began to overshadow is previous compositions & much of the early sheet music was stored away.

It wasn’t until almost a century later, to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of his death that these concertos were rediscovered & became known as game-changers. Bach used many instruments, often in very unorthodox styles. For example, the music we listened to in my class, No. 3 in G Major, was the first piece to feature a harpsichord in the forefront. Up until then, the instrument was mainly used to play chords & less intricate parts to the music. Harpsichords were almost strictly accompaniment instruments. However, in this piece, Bach wrote a solo for the instrument. The world now saw that harpsichords were much more versatile than previously thought.

Either way, the Brandenburg Concertos have become known across the world as some of the best Baroque pieces ever composed. I’d have to agree.

If you’d like to dive further into the history of these works, you can get a very detailed explanation here.

 

Cover Art/Vinyl Quality:
There isn’t much artwork on this one. The gate-fold record jacket is blue with swirls of purple. There’s no real design.

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Cover Art for The Brandenburg Concertos

It’s a double album, in the same format as Hanson’s Anthem or The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife. The two discs have three or four tracks per side. This one is a little different than the others, though & the difference is in the length of the track. Baroque pieces tend to be quite a bit longer than rock songs, so even though there are only three to four tracks on a  side, one side of this album works out to be about the same length as a side on a seven-track-per-side rock record. All in all, the entire collection runs for about an hour & forty minutes, or about double the length of a standard LP.

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The Double LP

The vinyl discs are in surprisingly good condition for spending time in a dollar bin for who knows how long. Most of the other records were stored in the same way & were scratched, gouged & their covers & sleeves were falling apart. On the other hand, The Brandenburg Concertos’ discs were among the few that were only a little dusty from sitting unplayed in their sleeves for a while. When I got home, all I had to do was wipe the vinyl down with my record cleaning kid, making the album was good for a spin on the turntable.

 

Sound:
Just a little disclaimer here: When it comes to classical music, I am not an audiophile, but I can point out a few things. Being a different recording than the one I had from my course, I could pick discrepancies between this recording & the one I had from school, almost right away. The audio mix was a little different, with some noticeable differences between the way the prominent instruments were presented, which made the sound of the mix (despite the fact that a record always will sound fuller, it was definitely the mix & not the fact that it was a vinyl recording) a little warmer. The overall tempo was also slower. All of these things were just fine with me;  you have to expect some elements to change from recording to recording. They’re different performances, with different key elements, such as the musicians, the producer & the conductor, all of whom have personal artistic visions. There isn’t a ton more I can speak to, but I will say that the sound of the music filling your bedroom as you try to relax beats the tinny sound from ear-buds or computer speakers any day.

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The Vanguard label

Final Thoughts:
I was really lucky to find this double album & am glad I decided to pick it up. I really enjoyed listening to these pieces & am looking forward to playing them many times to come. Finally able to listen to them through real speakers is quite the musical experience & I’m grateful to be able to have access to a sound which is as close to what Bach had intended.

You can find different versions of The Brandenburg Concertos on CD & mp3, anywhere, really. This specific vinyl release from Vanguard can also be found on eBay, for between five & twenty dollars, but don’t forget to check your dollar bin!

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Cleaning Clocks on the Rails & Taking a Punch in the Face

Cleaning someone’s clock is an expression mainly used by sportswriters, when they’re referring to an huge defeat. The phrase can also be used to describe someone being punched in the face. In any sense of its use, the implications are the same. The clock is the sufferer of some sort of defeat, while the guy with the rag & the Windex is the winner.

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Fenway Park during the 1914 World Series. During game 1, The Boston Braves would clean Philadelphia Athletics’ clocks, 7-1. (Image in public domain)

On written record,”cleaning someone’s clock,” is still a baby. It was first published in its entirety in 1959, but this is just its written history. As I’ve said before, written traditions are way younger than oral ones, so this one most likely goes back a bit more. Without further delay, let’s look into the few ways the phrase may have come to be.

The first is extremely easy. It’s such a simple idea, that it fits in two lines. It’s this:

The word “clock,” when used as a verb sometimes means to hit. The phrase we know may be nothing more than a simple variation of that meaning.

The second meaning comes from the days of steam locomotives.

Pressure gauges on the engine were called clocks because of their slight resemblance to the timepieces. They were circular & had needles, which looked like the hands of a clock. These needles indicated how much steam pressure was in the different systems of the engine. “Cleaning someone’s clock” is a reference to the brake gauge. This is because when an engineer needed to execute an emergency stop, he would pull a lever, emptying the steam out of the breaking system. The needle on the “clock” would then indicate that the steam pressure was at zero. Zeroing the needle was also called cleaning. It’s easy to draw the connection from this use of the phrase, to sportswriters’ usage: When you clean the clocks on a train, it comes to a complete stop. Likewise, when you clean the clocks of a sports team, the scoring momentum comes to a complete stop & they have no chance of winning.

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A Pressure gauge, or clock.                     (Image in public domain)

The third is a simple combination of two different slang terms.

Londoners who speak English with a Cockney accent use the word “clock” as a nickname for a person’s face. On the website, The Phrase Finder user, The Fallen confirms this in a post, where he claims that it comes from the fact that we refer to the part of the clock with the numbers & hands as the face. He remains at a loss as to why cleaning one of these clock faces has come to be a reference to a punch.

Let’s examine the verb “to clean,” as a slang word. According to the website, The Word Detective, it’s quite easy. On this side of the pond, it has been linked synonymously with the verb, to defeat. Most sources date it to the early Nineteenth Century.

Take clean, when used in the above context & put it next to the word clock, meaning face, & you have an expression which means “to defeat someone’s face.” I’d say punching someone in the face would definitely defeat it.

Out of all three options, I would have to pick the last two. There isn’t much to the first one, but then again simplicity might be the key, as it has been before. At any rate, I have always liked this expression & it’s cool to know where it may have come from.

Have a good week & I’ll see you next Monday.

For now, though, now you know; you’re welcome.

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Show Your True Colors: Pirates & Warfare

Hello bologna readers! Happy Tuesday. This one’s a day late, so you have my apologies, but if it’s any concession, this one’s a good one.

Showing your true colors. You think you know someone, right? The phrase refers to someone who reveals their real intentions through some form of deceit. Why is it colors? Why don’t just use the word motive instead?

Well, as with many of these expressions, this one goes back to the high seas, so, let’s go along with it.

What do you think of when you hear the word Pirate? I’ll bet most of you are thinking the same thing: that peg-legged, eye-patched sailor who sails the seven seas with his swashbuckling friends, finds buried treasure & engages in heroic ocean battles while yelling, “Avast!” & “Arrrrrrr!”.

That’s the notion that Hollywood has put into our heads. Who doesn’t like a dramatic story, & if the leading character is a pirate, well, he has to be the good guy, right?

Not so fast. Pirates were a despicable bunch (think of the horrifying pirates of today, only with technology of the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries). They were nasty & weren’t afraid to steal, kidnap, rape, capture ships, spread disease & any other awful thing you can think of. Don’t believe me? Just read this Cracked article by Eric Yosomono & Jean Flynn. One of the entries from this list of terrifying pirates is about a guy who took a bite of a human heart before shoving it into another prisoner’s face & threatening to do the same thing to him. So, needless to say, these guys were not people you wanted to mess with.

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A pirate murdering the crap out of someone. (Image in Public Domain)

After hearing that, it might not surprise you to learn that dishonesty was a also common trait among pirates. Law abiding sailors, especially merchants & explorers, were always fearing pirate attacks. These ocean-going outlaws were much harder to detect & combat back then. This caused many ships to be tricked, & seized or sunk. This is due to one pirate battle tactic, which blatant flew in the face of contemporary rules of naval warfare.

In the days of sailing ships & cannon battles, “colors” was just another word for flag. Warships were required to display the flag of their respective nation.  A lowered flag meant a surrender (This is also where the phrase, “nailing your colors to the mast” comes from: if the ship had absolutely no intention of surrendering, a flag nailed to its mast would negate the chance of it accidentally being lowered). It was simply a way of identifying a ship’s allegiance & a way to distinguish it from its enemy. Here’s where the pirate’s tactic came in. They would fly the flag of the nation to which the ship they were ambushing belonged. Now that the outlaws had their prey believing they were friendly, they could sneak up really close. Just before attacking, they would lower the flag & replace it with some form of the Jolly Roger, showing their true colors, & therefore, true intentions.

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The true colors of pirate ships: the Jolly Roger (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user, WarX)

Pretty sneaky, huh?

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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A Baker’s Dozen: Avoiding Serious Punishments

Hello everyone. I hope you all had a good long weekend.

Here we go.

For the most part, bakeries sell their food by the dozen, or batches of twelve, but many continue to advertize sales which call for a baker’s dozen. When you ask for this, you’ll always get thirteen pieces of whatever you ordered, for the price of twelve. At first thought, it may seem like an arbitrary number, but the idea are well founded, & probably saved more than a few lives.

To figure out what in the world the tradition means, we have to go back about four thousand years & work our way forward.

One of the earliest milestones of human civilization was the city of Babylon. It was located on the site of modern day Baghdad & as such an important city in our history, it gave birth to many ideas, which we still use variations of today. One of these fundamentals to society was one of the first comprehensive codes of law ever written. Bakers just happened to fit into this set of laws in a very strict way.

Here’s how:

A bustling city needs its inhabitants to be fed & Babylon was no different. So, what did they turn to to feed the population? Bread. Historical records show that because wheat is easy to grow & grind into flour, foods made from the grain have been a primary food source since he dawn of mankind. Because of this need for food & the widespread knowledge of how to cultivate wheat, bakeries were prominent around early cities.

While most of the shopowners were honest, some of them were sneaky & took advantage of their patrons. At the time, the baker’s standard was to give them a box of twelve loaves of bread. This was before any laws were put into practice to protect the customers’ interests, so bakers would produce smaller loaves, or if they were feeling exceptionally audacious that day, they’d short them a loaf. More money could be made because people would unknowingly spend the same amount for less bread.

Well, people started to catch on & quickly became sick of being cheated out of food, so much so that laws were passed to prevent it from happening. If you were a baker in Babylon & you cheated someone out of bread, your hand would be chopped off. Fast forward to Ancient Egypt, & your ear would be cut off & nailed to your bakery door. That’s how important bread was to those early societies.

Rules like this remained the same for almost two thousand years, until they faded into obscurity. Once this happened, the bread based conning started to become an apparent problem again. Slowly, people started to notice again & just like before, became upset. In fact, the issue became so prominent, that King Henry III of England, tired of being shorted, himself, lost his patience. In the 1260s, he called his court into session, specifically to address this. Out of this meeting, a law was passed, which stated that the weight of a wheat kernel in relation to the weight of a coin had a direct correlation on what to charge for loaf of bread & a gallon of wine. The law was called the Assize of Bread and Ale Act & it went something like this:

By the consent of the whole realm of England, the measure of the king was made; that is to say: that an English penny, called a sterling round, and without any clipping, shall weigh thirty-two wheat corns in the midst of the ear, and twenty-pence do make an ounce, and twelve ounces one pound, and eight pounds do make a gallon of wine, and eight gallons of wine do make a London bushel, which is the eighth part of a quarter.

 

This was groundbreaking, as it regulated the standard weight of a loaf, while letting the price of a loaf to fluctuate based on the market price of wheat. Before long, penalties for cheating customers were brought back into play, with various claims as to what they were. Some historians advocate that the punishment was flogging, while others claim that the Babylonian loss of a hand was the retribution.

Regardless of what the actual punishment was, most bakers didn’t think he extra dollar or two was worth it. Flogging often resulted in death & so did hand-removal, so to combat the risk & to assure mistakes weren’t made (you could also get nailed for an accident), bakers would throw in an extra loaf. It assured that the original dozen would still be there, in case something rendered one of the loaves inedible. This would push the weight of the basket over the legal requirement, even if bread accidentally came out of the oven too light. It was a win-win situation for everyone because customers would walk away happy they had an extra piece of bread & bakers were happy they were able to keep their hands. All in all, I’d say it was a good trade.

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A medieval bakery. Notice the baker’s dozen batch of bread on the table (Image in Public Domain).

The act only lasted a few because the king decided that sitting in a jail cell was a better alternative to losing the country’s bakers to whippings & blood loss, right?

Wrong. The law remained unchanged until 1863, when England passed one of its Statute Law Revision Acts,  Parliamentary act which nullifies or revises past laws that have become obsolete. That’s six hundred years of on-the-books flogging & be-handing as a remedy for lying to customers.

So, my friends, the next time you walk into a bakery, take some time to think of all those poor souls who sacrificed their hands so you could get a free cupcake with your twelve others.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Mead Drinking on Your Honeymoon

Hello everyone!

I have weddings on my mind because my friend is getting married in a few months & as his best man, I’ve been busy planning & preparing with him. So, Scott & Laura, this one is for  you.

As celebrations of two people sharing their lives together, weddings are always fun times. The party does have to come to an end, though, & once everyone goes home, the bride & groom get to extend their own festivities by going on vacation. Planning & preparing for the wedding can be tiring & stressful, so a break from life & time to enjoy the company of each other is well deserved. We call this the honeymoon.

It’s a weird word when you think about it. The word as we use it doesn’t have anything to do with honey or the moon, but hey, it’s a hell of a lot easier than saying “the vacation the bride & groom take after the wedding.” So, honeymoon, it is. Despite its apparent meaninglessness, the word has been part of our language for centuries & we use it without thinking. So, what does it mean? Does honey actually have anything to do with it? What about the moon, for that matter?

Luckily, you read this blog because I’m going to let you know.

There are a few vaguely connected theories as to how this word came to be. I learned the first one independently from researching for this entry, way before I even had the idea to write about the bologna.

In 2012, my family & I went to Ireland. It was one of the best trips of my life & if I ever get the chance to go back, I will in a heartbeat.

We spent a few days Dublin & quite a bit of time in the beautiful countryside. On our last full day there, we went to Blarney Castle, kissed the Blarney Stone & walked around the town. After a little ways, my father & I came across a little shop which sold various odds & ends. That’s when I saw the bottle. It was full of a golden brown liquid that looked like alcohol, & hoping it was something very Irish, I picked it up. It was mead, a liqueur made from honey. It’s not Irish in particular; it comes from all over Europe & is traditional in some form in almost every country. This brand was Irish mead, so I decided to buy it.

I flipped the bottle around & on the back was a little paragraph, which told of the origin of the word “honeymoon.”

The text explained that in Medieval England & Ireland, mead was thought to make couples fertile. Paired with the notion that a full moon also increased fertility, newlyweds would take a trip to the countryside, so they could try to conceive. That was the entire reason for going away. They’d shack up for a month, drink mead, & when the moon was full, try to have a child.

Other variations of this history include having the wedding on a full moon for luck, followed by a month of mead drinking, while trying to conceive. Either way, mead played an important role with Irish wedding couples.

A bottle of Swedish mead, or honey wine. (Photo courtesy of Tobias Radeskog)

The Online Etymology Dictionary describes it a little differently, breaking up the word into its parts. It strictly describes the etymology & doesn’t give much insight into the tradition. According to the site, honeymoon was originally two words spelled, “hony moone.” It referred to “indefinite period of tenderness and pleasure experienced by a newly wed couple.” When broken down, “hony” described the the “new marriage’s sweetness” & “moone” described how long the period of tenderness was to last, as dictated by the changing lunar phase.

During my research, I stumbled upon an Indian resort’s website. The Pavilions advertises itself as a honeymoon destination, & on one of their pages page, they give a history of the word. Here’s where it gets a pretty dark. The page claims that the honeymoon is a remnant of bridal kidnapping, which is exactly what it sounds like. The tradition was apparently started by Attila the Hun. His men would kidnap women, & force them into marriage. The period of time the bride was held captive eventually evolved into the honeymoon. The story is a bit morbid for a resort that wants to be romantic, huh?

Anyway, The Pavilions didn’t cite any sources, so I dug into it myself. It turns out that bridal kidnapping did occur fairly frequently, especially in South Eastern Europe. Many historians do, in fact, believe that this was the honeymoon in its first stage of evolution. By the beginning of the Middle Ages, marriage had become legally & religiously binding, & the outing had naturally transformed into something willful for both parties.

Thankfully, today, it’s is a much lighter & happier tradition. The bride can spend time with her new husband because she wants to & not because she has no choice. Thankfully we don’t live in the Dark Ages, huh?

 

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Chess: A Game Full of Foreign Languages

I’ve never been good at chess. It’s one of the most challenging & mentally taxing games in history. The amount of strategy & it takes a lot of hard thinking to outsmart your opponent. Some people are very good at it.

Games can take hours or days & those who play professionally take it extremely seriously. They have every right & whether you’re good at it or not, the game deserves the recognition & respect.  Putting strategy aside, it’s extremely old. “How old? The Dark Ages?” you might ask. Nope. It’s way older. Reports of a Japanese version of chess date back five thousand years, but for the purpose of this entry, we’re going to stick with the variant we know.

Chess as Westerns play it, is believed to have been invented in the Second Century in the middle of the Gupta Empire in India. The game consisted of the same basic principle, with a few different pieces & rules, reflecting life in India, rather than the West. The pieces were:

Raja: King
Mantri: General (later the Queen)
Ratha: Chariot (later the Rook)
Gaja: Elephant (later the Bishop)
Ashva: Horse or Knight
Padati: Foot Soldier (now known as the Pawn)

By the Sixth Century, the game was being called chaturanga, which is Sanskrit for “having four limbs.” As you can assume from the name, it was a four player game. After spending a good chunck of time circulating around the Indian nobility, merchants who did business with the high classes picked it up. Any history buff can tell you that trade & the spread of culture go hand in hand & chaturanga was no different. Chess had begun its global popularization.

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The layout of a four player Chaturanga board. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user MSouza)

By 1000 AD, chess had split into two branches. The first, known as Asiatic chess, spread North & East, through Asia, no doubt lending influence to the ancient Japanese game I mentioned before. The other version is the one we know, & it’s called Occidental or European chess.

As awareness of the game traveled through Western Asia & the Middle East, cultures accepted it very quickly. The original Indian words were absorbed into the hundreds of new languages they were meeting & rules were added. For example, two fundamental changes, which made European chess unique, have their origins in Persia. The first is that chess started to be a two-player game, instead of requiring four. Players also started to warn their opponents of their king’s danger. The changes stuck & once people in England started playing, they began using the word “check” to make the other player aware of the king’s jeopardized safety. In the Middle Ages, the word referred to a temporary stoppage, as nothing can be done until the king is moved out of harm’s way.

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The two person Chaturanga board. It resembles European chess quite a bit. (Photo released into public domain by Wikipedia user Adhe)

Now for everyone’s favorite part: victory. Upon realizing that the rival player had no moves left, the winner would say, “shah mat.” Though the common though among the general public is that this means, “The king is dead,” that’s not true. It’s understandable, though because, upon hearing the words, the loser lays the king piece on its side. The death allusion is just coincidence, though; shah mat’s literal translation is, “The king is stumped/helpless/ambushed.” Coupled with the fact that the word “check” was already being used, English ears heard an Anglicized version of the phrase, & adopted “checkmate.”

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An illustration showing Moorish nobility playing European chess. (image is in public domain)

The name chess, itself, comes from the old French word for the game, “echecs.” The French used this word because the board resembled an accounting table called an eschequier, a word which has survived to become a term we use to describe an agency set up to collect royal revenue. Interestingly enough, it’s also where we get the term “checkered,” when we describe the color pattern & obviously the name of the game checkers.

 

Chess has a much more interesting complicated history than you’d expect. Its popularity & the fact that it’s held in such high esteem is a wonderful testament to the game’s rich history. It’s been around for a good portion of human civilization & I expect it to stick around for a long time in the future.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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