Printable Version
Pronunciation: sfi-ri-ste-ri-yêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A place, room in a school, a courtyard or stadium for playing ball, especially a room for playing handball. The Greeks called it a sphairisterion.

Notes: The Greeks and Romans played several games with balls for physical training. Pila "ball" was played in a room called a spheristerium. The object was to throw the ball up and catch it without letting it touch the floor or ground. The Greek game phaininda corresponded to Roman harpastum, a game played with an 8" ball of leather sewn around sponges and animal fur. The rules suggest it was similar to rugby and was played in a stadium on a field about the size of a football field. We may pluralize today's word spheristeria or spheristeriums.

In Play: This Good Word would add class to any ballpark near you. How about Yankee Spheristerium? We would, of course, have to write new songs, since "Take me out to the Spheristerium" will not encourage you to tap your feet. That doesn't mean this word is useless. Imagine how you'll impress your friends with this invitation: "I'll meet you over at the spheristerium at 5:30 for a round of handball."

Word History: Today's word is a Latin imitation of Greek sphairisterion, the locational (place) noun from the word sphaira "ball". This word was borrowed by Latin as sphaera, origin of the English word sphere. It also underlies the name of another ball game played by the ancient Greeks, sphairistike, played by bouncing balls off courtyard walls. In 1874, Major Walter C. Wingfield patented in London the equipment and rules for a game under the name of Sphairistike. However, the name proved too difficult to pronounce and sales slumped until the name was replaced by Lawn Tennis. It then quickly evolved into the game of tennis we know and love today.

Dr. Goodword,

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