Whether it's due to this love of language, or my interest in history- probably a combination of both- I also find studying the origins of words and phrases to be fascinating. With that in mind, I thought I'd occasionally relate the backstory of something in our language which has survived to this day. I was flipping through my copy of Lorna Doone the other day, and a sentence caught my eye: "Now let us bandy words no more... nothing is easier than sharp words, except to wish them unspoken." This made me wonder where the idiom "bandy words" came from, and I spent a few minutes researching it. Here's what I learned:
As it turns out, this term can be traced back to an early form of tennis, which was played indoors and in which the ball could be bounced off the wall. The indoor courts would also include a seating section where spectators could watch (and gamble on) the matches. I actually got to see one of these tennis courts when I visited England for the first time and traveled out to Hampton Court Palace, former home of King Henry VIII, who in his youth was an avid player.
We do know the idiom was in use by the mid 1500's, because it is used in Holinshed's Chronicles, which were published in 1577. Raphael Holinshed was a translator employed by the London publisher Reyner Wolfe. Wolfe assigned him the daunting task of writing a history of the world from the Flood to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he never finished this tome, but a portion of it was published under the title: The Firste Volume of the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. It includes the sentence, "Kingdoms... be no balles for me to bandie." Also, it's known that Shakespeare relied heavily on The Chronicles as source material for his historical plays, as well as for the plot of Macbeth, and some of King Lear (1605), in which he uses the phrase: "Do you bandy lookes with me, you Rascall?" The earliest written use of the actual term "bandy words" which has been found is in a 1625 comedic stage play by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, entitled The Fair Maid of the Inn. During the course of the play, there is an argument over a marriage proposal in which one character states, "I'll not bandy words, but thus dissolve the contract."
So that's a brief look at the history of the idiom "bandy words". Incidentally, the tennis term also gave name to another, later sport. In 17th century Ireland, a game similar to field hockey became known as "bandy", and the curved stick used to hit the ball is called a bandy, as well. This form of bandy has since moved to the ice, and is still played today. Played with a ball not a puck, its rules are closer to those for soccer than for hockey, and it is played on an ice surface about the size of a soccer field. Apparently it's quite popular in Sweden, Finland, and Norway... being Canadian, I only know that hockey is numero uno.