Chess: Too exacting to be art; too inexact to be science; too erudite to be sport: too demanding to be a be just a game. Perhaps a metaphor for life and struggle. In Goethe's words, "Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game." If chess is a metaphor for life, it's not surprising that chess terms have become part of the broader language.
The familiar word check – to restrain, or to inspect for quality – comes from chess. But how that word evolved from the chess meaning is problematical
The word clearly came into English with the game of chess, which Europe acquired from Persia. The game's object is to capture the opponent's king (Persian shah), and in Persia a player would announce shah when he threatened the opponent's king with immediate capture. As the game spread through Europe, this announcement shah passed through several languages (Arabic, probably Old Spanish, and Old French) to become "check" in Middle English, in the early 1300s.
But ask how this chess usage evolved to the modern sense, and you will find that the authorities are notably vague. AHD simply says "through a complex development".
We can do better, noting that by the late 1300s Chaucer was using "check" in the sense of being restrained or under compulsion (just as, in chess a check compels immediate attention, restraining the player from other action).
"I am mine owen woman, well at ease, ... Right young, and stand untied ... Shall none husband say to me checkmate.
[From The House Of Fame, 2093-2097 and Troilus and Cressida, Book II, 750-754; language somewhat modernized; originals here]
Quote "...too erudite to be sport..."
Chess is the only sport that I play. And if I really want to work up a sweat I use a full-size set.
I've seen (but never tried to verify) that checkmate comes from "shah mat", meaning "the king (shah) is dead".
endgame – the final stage of an extended process or course of events [In chess: the final stage of a game, when most pieces have been removed from the board; requires different strategy]
After two optimistic political quotations, we illustrate a typical misuse of endgame to mean simply "the desired final result"]
– John Lloyd, Ulster enters the endgame, New Statesman, Aug. 20, 2001
The real news out of Cuba is not the flood of refugees, but the terminal crisis of the Castro regime, which has clearly entered a new phase. The endgame has been more protracted than many expected a few years ago, but the outcome is not in doubt--only the timing.
– Endgame in Cuba, National Review, Sept. 12, 1994
[Companies that overcame major problems] maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts
– Jim Collins (noted business author), Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't
Yes, Haberdasher, checkmate derives, via Arabic, from Persian shah mat 'the king (is) dead'. Shah is from Old Persian khshayathiya and is related to Sanskrit kshatriya 'one of the varnas or castes, the princely caste'.
Chess is the only sport that I play.
Let it not be said that Richard doesn't like sports.
In chess the pawn is the most numerous of the pieces, with the least mobility and value. It is, if you will, the foot-soldier of the army of chessmen. The name pawn comes to us (via Old French) from Medieval Latin pedo or pedon, foot soldier (which, humorously is from Late Latin "one who has wide feet"). The pawn is the slogging infantry grunt, sent to do the dirty work.
From this meaning comes the more general meaning of the term.
pawn – a person without real power, used (manipulated) by others for their own purposes
– Rosalind Miles, A girl like Diana - Princess of Wales, Saturday Night, Nov. 1,1997
The front line was made of innocents, said QRF [Quick Reaction Force] Col. Jim Campbell: "We are facing a particularly callous and cunning enemy who uses women and children as pawns."
– Scott Peterson, Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda
[In divorce:] Before you say or do anything mean or vindictive, look at your children. Think about how your comment or action will impact them. Don't use your children as pawns to get back at your ex-spouse.
– Jan Blackstone-Ford, The Custody Solutions Sourcebook
The Spanish version is peón.
Pronounced more like "pay-OWN" than "pee-ahn"
checkmate – noun: utter defeat. verb: to defeat completely
[chess: a threatened immediate capture of the opponent's king (that is, a check) in which that capture cannot be averted. verb: to make such a check]
[from Persian shat mat "the king is dead"]
Correction by edit: That should be shah mat, rather than shat mat.]
- William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940
in extremis - at the point of death
[Note: many dictionaries wrongly state that, in chess, 'checkmate' means a check that the attacked king cannot "escape". But escape implies flight, while in chess an attack can be averted by moving the attacked piece (fleeing) or by shielding it from the attack or by capturing the attacker. A "checkmate" requires that none of these counters be available.]This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
gambit – 1. an action or remark calculated to gain an advantage; a maneuver or ploy 2. a remark made to open a conversation
Today's word, in ordinary usage, has changed quite a bit from its original chess meaning. In chess, a gambit [from Ital. gambetto ‘tripping up’] is play in which a player sacrifices material early in the game, in order to gain a strategic positional advantage. But the ordinary non-chess sense, a gambit is any ploy or maneuver: it need not be early (except the conversational gambit) or involve a sacrifices, and it may seek immediate (tactical) pay-off. See for example our final quotation: "final gambit".
–S.M Stirling, Funnel-web males send knockouts in air, Science News, Aug. 11, 2001
In the magazine world, finding new readers can be hard work. One gambit is to pair up with a major retailer. Time Inc. launched its All You magazine exclusively at Wal-Marts, to zero in on a huge market while avoiding some of the expenses associated with launching a new title.
– James Bandler and Jeffrey A Trachtenberg, So Much to Read, So Few Readers, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 22, 2004 (today)
Block the Vote: As a Final Gambit, Parties Are Trying to Damp Turnout
– headline of front-page article, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 27, 2004
stalemate – a deadlock; a situation of opposing parties in which neither side can make further progress or take any further worthwhile action. verb: bring to stalemate.
– Robin Cook, resignation speech, 17th March 2003
stalemate (chess): the position where the player to move is not in check (but every available move would leave him in check).
[contrast checkmate: the position where the player to move is in check (and every available move will leave him in check)]
...and then there is Zugzwang, which might be considered the opposite of stalemate. In Zugzwang there is only one legal move possible, and no matter how unfavorable the consequences, that's what must be done. There is no other choice; the move is forced.
Zugzwang :- great word, hadn't heard it before. A nice compound in German. From Zug 'move (in a boardgame)' (lit. 'train, pull, drag, draw') plus Zwang 'coercion, constraint, enforcement'.
The press gives a good definition of our final term from chess.
Zugzwang is the well-known phenomenon in chess in which the player with the move would be just as happy to pass. The position on the board may hold no particular danger, but any move the player in zugzwang makes invariably makes things worse. (German for "compulsion to move")
– David R. Sands, Zugzwang: Moving ordeal, The Washington Times, June 21, 2003
"Well-known" phenomenon? The word is rarely used outside of chess, but you'll find it in the recent press in The Guardian, and also here:
– Wayne Brown, The battle for Falluja, Jamaica Observer, November 21, 2004
quote:Er, make that [from Persian shah mat "the king is dead"].
I haven't been posting lately, but I've really been enjoying the Chess words. Zugzwang is not an official chess position, just a term to describe a particular situation.
In Modern chess, stalemate results in a draw, though a couple of hundred years ago it was a victory for the side not stalemated, reasoning that if you had the other side trapped, that was as good as checkmate. I don't remember exactly where the rule changed.
Zugzwang is fairly rare in its pure state, that is, no matter what move is made, the position moves to a lost won. It occurs most often in an end game, with locked up pawns and no other pieces. The first side to move must move the king, allowing the opponents king to swoop in and capture his opponents pawns.
haven't been posting lately
We've noticed, and we've missed you!
"It occurs most often in an end game, with locked up pawns and no other pieces. The first side to move must move the king, allowing the opponents king to swoop in and capture his opponents pawns."
Are you thinking of kings in "opposition", Seanahan? I've never thought of that as a zugzwang, but now that you mention it, it certainly is one.