The word coach, as in basketball coach, began as a Hungarian cart!
Here’s the story. The coach was named after a small Hungarian village, Kocs, where superior wagons, carts and carriages were built. Kocs, in the Hungarian district of Komarom-Esztergom, lay on the main road along the Danube between Vienna and Budapest. These two great cities needed well-built, fast vehicles that would carry more than two people over the bumpy roads of the day in as much comfort as was then possible.
One of the best of these multi-horse carts was called in Hungarian kocsi szekér ‘a wagon from Kocs.’ In Kocs, one of the first successful, reasonably comfortable passenger coaches, a light, graceful, four-wheeled wagon with a strap suspension, was built. Its design was so compact, elegant and sturdy that this coach design spread throughout Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. The German-speaking Viennese started to call this vehicle a Kutsche, which is how they heard Hungarians saying the name of the little carriage-making town. From Vienna these lively vehicles traveled to Paris and the French, adapting the Austrian word, called it a coche. In Rome it was, and still is, in Italian cocchio. Eventually the English borrowed the word and the vehicle and called it a coach.
How early did the little Hungarian town of Kocs gain renown as a place of excellent carriage-makers? There is strong evidence (printed) that when Anne of Bohemia married England’s Richard II in 1382 CE, she brought carriages from Kocs, Hungary with her to England.
English words we borrowed from the Hungarian language include goulash (a stew made with beef or veal), paprika (a seasoning made from sweet red peppers), coach, and saber (a cavalry sword).
How then did a Hungarian horse-carriage word get applied to a basketball coach? Two theories have been offered, one suggesting metaphorical word use, the other bluntly descriptive of an action.
A coach was first a tutor who guided students through various fields of study or lessons. The coach carried the student through the course, as a coach and four might carry an 18th century English family to London. That is the commonly accepted theory.
I prefer the other British idea that wealthy squires had their servants read to them as they drove in coaches about the countryside on their business or on long trips into a nearby city. A private tutor might come along to assist their children or indeed read aloud to the children, who would thus be “coached” in their studies as they proceeded along the country roads. It was only a short jump in meaning from an academic “coach” to one who coached in sports like basketball or football, who showed players, by virtue of his broader expertise and experience, some of the plays and tricks needed to excel in a particular sport.
How much we lost when the eco-friendly coach and the team of horses were lost to civilization, to be replaced by smelly, poisonous vehicles from Detroit propelled by one of the least efficient fuel-operated machines ever devised, namely, the internal combustion engine.
How much more calming to set off on a quiet summer afternoon at a modest trot in a slim caleche like the yellow beauty shown above.
Hungarian is an Ugric language of the Finno-Ugric subgroup of the Uralic language family. Originally from a large region in Central European Russia, Finno-Ugric peoples started migrating in different directions around 3000 BC. In the first centuries of the Christian era, the Ugrians began a slow migration westward towards present-day Hungary. They arrived in the ninth century, making contact with the Bulgar Turks and the Khazars. In this way, the largest Finno-Ugric nation came into existence. Constituting a unique enclave surrounded by speakers of Germanic, Slavic, Romanian and Turkic languages, Hungary was linguistically very isolated. The closest related languages are the Ostyak and Vogul languages of Siberia, spoken in a region more than 2,000 miles away.
Historical mail coach on a Russian stamp commemorating a Russian mail route that ran from Moscow to the port of Riga, capital of Latvia, on the Baltic Sea.
Coaches speeded up postal services which had been terribly slow and jolty before 1784. In that year the English mail coach rumbled along the first pebbly route. Not only was it the fastest, but also it offered the most punctual service in the world. It needed masses of good horses. They were known as Yorkshire Coach horses and were unrivalled right up until the mid-19th century when the Hungarian Jukker, an unbelievably nimble-footed breed, took the lead. Jukkers drew the carriages of monarchs all over Europe including the German Emperor William II and Tsar Alexander III. Even King Edward VII journeyed to Budapest to buy a carriage with Jukkers. One of the most spectacular Hollywood films ever shot featured four Hungarian horses. Ben Hur's chariot was drawn by Hungarian horses sired by the Esterházy family's Tata stud.
For me, a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the most magic use of the term was in the compound word stagecoach, evoking bandanna-masked banditos riding cayuses as they charged up out of Dead Deputy Gulch and chased the stagecoach down a dusty trail. The noble cowboy hero, often John Wayne, would save the gold stored in trunks on the stagecoach by blasting the villains to smithereens with rifle and revolver. Who cared if you were likely to fracture your coccygeal vertebra as you jolted over rocky desert pistes? You were clearing the pristine, god-lovin' territory of no-good "varmints"!
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
Reviews of my Book
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A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
In the best of the spiritual tradition, Bill is the shape-shifter who constantly leads you to all the places you need to find in your soul. Every page is a new country, an invitation to an excursion into the wonderland of rich connections with the myriad of sources of what so often we unthinkingly wield as a prosaic tool.
Pay absolutely no attention to anyone who tells you that this book is anything but pure gold. It’s simply not true, sadly, that all the world loves a lover. Particularly someone whose love is so boundless.
But Sir William is fearless. You don’t earn your keep as a medicine man if you have a thin skin. While I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could walk away from this book unmoved by its wit, its wisdom and the beautiful transparency by which the author celebrates the glorious romp of our almost unlimited linguistic exuberance, I have to sadly conclude that once in a while, you do meet someone who can’t see the forest for the trees, eh?
Read this book. Leave it on the sofa instead of the $%#!*$% TV remote. Maybe someone you care about will pick it up, even just for a moment, and fall in love with their heritage?
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
(Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.)
Jenni French of San Francisco, California writes on her blog “My Corner of the Universe” for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
“I admit it: I’m a word nerd. I love words: weird words, long words, obscure words, funny words. This book is right up my alley. With chapters like “Nautical Words,” “Creepy Words,” and “Edible Words,” I have enjoyed every page of this book.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: “What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names” (19).
I’m sure I’ll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining.”
(Author Bill Casselman replies: “Thanks, Jenni!” )
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word essays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog “Creativity Unlimited” of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
Tags: 365 things to look forward to, books, reading
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?”
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
A search for the origins of an improbable-looking word, paraprosdokian, led me to the first piece of your prose I have had the pleasure of reading, “The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian & Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” I have just placed an order for Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik, Canadian Words & Sayings, and As The Canoe Tips, and will add more of your titles as I finish these.
I have just retired from a 40-plus year career in book publishing, the last thirty years spent as director/editor of a number of university presses, attempting to sort the genuine writers from the “Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” Sad to say, the latter have so over-bred the former that I could no longer see the rare gem in the avalanches of offal that daily swamped my office and desk. I visited your website and spent far too long there; it was a pleasure to meet a real writer through his work.
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman’s Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the “profligate prof-lets.” During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let’s first book, “Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it.”
I know I will enjoy your books. Keep up the good work.
University of New Mexico Press, among others
coach origin of the sports term