Friday 16 July 2010

Pool, Pool And Throwing Stuff At Hens

I spent yesterday either in the swimming pool or playing pool. This strict regime was broken only by a delicious lunch of roast chicken. It occurred to me, even in my languorous and licentious state, to wonder whether there was any connection at all between the two pools. There is not.

The pool that I was swimming in is of Germanic extraction and relates only to places like Liverpool, which means muddy waters (there is some sort of pop music joke to be made here, but I can't think of it at the moment).

The pool that I was playing (or, if you're American, shooting) goes back to 1848. Before that it was a gambler's card game and the pool was the money to be won. This goes back to the French poule, meaning the pot of money to be won. This is a trifle odd as une poule is French for a hen (as in the English pullet).

So far as anybody can tell the reason for this is an old French game: le jeu de la poule. In Medieval France medieval frenchmen would thrown medieval french stuff at a hen, which would run around squawking. Whoever hit the hen won a prize: hence pool the card game and hence pool the variant of snooker and billiards.

Hence also, pool your resources or carpooling. This surprised me as I had always imagined that when you pooled your money you were putting it into the same... pond, as it were.

So it turns out that my pool-playing related more closely to my lunch than to my swimming. It also means that a gene pool is, etymologically, a race of chickens.

The Inky Fool's animal sanctuary soon went to the bad


  1. You must have similar tendencies to my long-ago Irish boyfriend, who read the dictionary in bed.

    Fabulous post.

  2. Does the word "jackpot" also relate to or originate with "jeu de poule"? They look and sound similar to me, although I've been reading that "jackpot" comes from a card game where jacks or better were required to win.