Saturday, May 08, 2010

Double-Cross


Dona from Cedar asked about the origin of double-cross, sometimes spelled without the hyphen. Originally, it was a sporting term, and it referred to someone who had deliberately engaged to lose a contest, but then—at the last moment—decided to win instead.

The meaning of cross involved here meant a thwarting, and as such it showed up in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing: "Any barre, any crosse, any impediment, will be medicinable to me. . .How canst thou crosse this marriage? " [II. ii. 4]

Centuries later, double-cross showed up in John C.Hotton's A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words: “Double cross, a cross in which a man who has engaged to lose breaks his engagement, and ‘goes straight’ at the last moment.”


The noun cross has many meanings, most of them stemming from the characteristic shape of a cross.

  • the instrument of crucifixion
  • a prayer used in the adoration of the cross
  • the sign of the cross made with the right hand
  • a market place
  • a trial or affliction to be borne with patience
  • a mark made in place of a signature by one who cannot write
  • formerly in Scotland, a signal sent through a district to summon the inhabitants
  • a part of an anchor, hinge, or other object, which occupies a position transverse to the main part
  • the cross-piece dividing the blade of a sword, etc. from the hilt, and serving as a guard to the hand; the cross-guard
  • a surveyor’s instrument
  • a ‘dumb jockey’ shaped like the letter X, buckled across the back of a young horse, and having the reins of the snaffle bridle fastened to it, to make him carry his head properly
  • a coin bearing the representation of a cross
  • a movement from one part of the stage to another in acting
  • in boxing, a blow that crosses over the opponent's lead
  • in football, a cross-pass
  • the accidental contact of two lines or circuits so that a portion of the electric current is diverted or crosses from one to the other
  • an intermixture of breeds or races in the production of an animal; an instance of cross-fertilization in plants
  • an instance of the mixture of the characteristics of two different individuals; something intermediate in character between two things

SIDEBAR: Celtic Cross


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


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