Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Bounceless Ball

Tony inquired about the origin of rubber game, the final and deciding game of a tied series. While the rubber game is often the third in a series of three, it can also be the fifth or the seventh game, depending on the sport. The unwavering requirement is an odd number.

There seems to be no institutional memory of its origin. The Oxford English Dictionary posits two pieces of information: it is not connected to the stretchy or bouncy substance, and the earliest instance in print (1599) was in reference to the game of bowls, a lawn game that has a cousin in bocce. At first, it was spelled in the plural form, rubbers.

There has been speculation over the years that the verb rub is at play here. In some versions, if your ball hits or rubs against the marker ball, it is significant. But I find nothing definitive.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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