Printable Version
Pronunciation: puwl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A colloquial alternate for billiards, a game played by striking a white cue ball with a cue stick so that it will hit one or more of 9 or 15 colored balls and send it/them into one or more of six pockets at the corners and mid-edge of a rectangular table.

Notes: poolIn America, we play pool in a pool hall but billiards, in billiard parlors. Billiard parlors are for gentlemen and pool halls are hangouts for commoners. Pool is a stand-alone lexical orphan.

In Play: Pool is a game you shoot: "What are you doing this weekend? Let's go shoot a few games of pool." Billiards is a game you play: "Langford, what are you doing this week? Are you up to playing a few games of billiards?"

Word History: Today's Good Word was used at the end of the 18th Century as the name of a card game played for money. The name was taken from the pool of money staked on the game. Pool is an Anglicization of Old French poule "chicken, hen; stakes, bet, pool". This double entendre from 1680 shows the dual meaning then: Si Dangeau est de ce jeu, il prendra toutes les poules: c'est un aigle " If Dangeau is in this game, he will take all the hens/pot: he is an eagle." It remains in Spanish polla "chick; pool (of money), stakes". So it originated as a term referring to betting on games. French poule is a reduction of Latin pulla, the feminine of pullus "young animal, fowl". Latin came by this word from PIE pau- "few, small", source also of Sanskrit potah "young animal", Latin paucus "few, small", puer "child, boy", pauper "poor", and Greek pauros "few, small". It shows up in English as few and in Latvian as putnēns "chick, young bird". (Thanks now to wordmaster Jackie Strauss of Philadelphia, contributor of 100 Good Words since 2007, for sharing this contrast for the Good Word series.)

Dr. Goodword,

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