The Language of Golf

The Foreword to Peter Davies’ impressive book The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms  − From 1500 to the Present begins:

No game has a richer array of terms than golf. Five hundred years of golfing have built up an extraordinary vocabulary.

Mr. Davies goes on to say,

…before 1850 when the Scots had the game to themselves: bunker, caddie, divot, links, putt, stance, stymie and tee [were] purely Scottish words…

Robert K. Risk, a Scottish writer, poet and golfer in his book Songs of the Links, first published in 1919, identifies a presumably non-Scottish writer who,

…in a magazine alleges that the terminology of golf is peculiarly repulsive, and instances “top,” “foozle,” “tee,” “stymie,” “divot,” and “bunker,” as the cacophonous offspring of a degraded invention.

Risk responded with “A Protest,”


Imprimis, I would here protest
That any who mislikes our phrases,
Our stymies, foozles, and the rest
May, go, for all I care, to blazes,
Or any more select location
Where golf terms cannot cause vexation;

Secundo, when he sets his hand
Upon so sweet a bloom as stymie,
I’d have him clearly understand
Few words so keenly gratify me;
Stymie—it pleases me to say it
Almost as much as when I lay it.

Stymie—dear word most musical:
And what man will deny that putter,
Pronounced without a “t” at all,
Is smoother far than melted butter;
And when its “t’s” are forced to duty
Putter has still a poignant beauty.

And as for foozle—what could be
More deftly onomatopoeic?
Hearing the word, assuredly
Even one who knew not Golf, would see quick
Anger, futility, despair
As of a man who beats the air.

And divot—any duffer knows—
Is the by-product of a foozle:
When to a sounder game he grows,
And pitching-clubs cease to bamboozle,
Divot, when it is cut or said
Means a half-iron shot laid dead.

And what about those minor games—
Billiards and tennis, football, cricket—
Could one invent much uglier names
Than pot and screw and lob and wicket,
Off-side and deuce and maul and sett?
More loathly words I’ve never met.

Therefore, when in a magazine,
A writer airs such views as these,
I diagnose a touch of spleen
Or failure absolute to please
The Goddess who demands our duty—
Great are Golfina’s works and ways,
And passing sweet her every phrase,
And all her words are words of beauty.

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