Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: The word 'golf' is an acronym formed from "gentlemen only; ladies forbidden."
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1997]
Origins: The specious "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden" origin of the word "golf" has gained credence in recent years through its being made part of innumerable Internet-circulated "Did you
We've said it before, but it bears saying again: only a few common words truly have acronymic pedigrees, and those harken from the
Golf is an old word, one that first appeared in our written language in 1425. One theory says the word golf derives from the Dutch word kolf, a generic term for a stick, club, or mallet used in a number of games similar to tennis, croquet, and hockey. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, claiming the Dutch word kolf as the origin of golf is problematic for a variety of reasons:
(In those older Scottish writings, golf is variously spelled gouff, goiff, goffe, goff, gowff, and golph. Our modern determination to have only one correct spelling for each word would have struck our ancestors as hilariously pedantic and priggish. The norm for them was any number of spellings for common terms, provided those written representations validly reflected the pronunciation of
Games similar to golf have been around since Roman times, but golf as we now know it dates approximately to 1552, when the famed
(Bridge has a similar history. The card game we now know by that name dates only to the 1920s, yet games called "bridge" in which trump suits were named and outcomes determined by the number of tricks taken were around by 1860. As bridge historian Jack Olsen explains it, "Whist led to bridge-whist, which led to auction bridge, which led to contract bridge, which led to murder, divorce, suicide, mayhem, and other social evils." We can't help but find that a charmingly succinct yet apt history of the development of the game, even if it leaves off mention of "trump," the fifteenth century game that preceded whist.)
As for golf and this wholly unfounded "gentlemen only; ladies forbidden" word origin, its appeal is attributable to a societal shift in the nature of who now plays the game. Women these days take as many trips around the links as do their male counterparts, and golf has grown to be a pastime enjoyed by both sexes. It's thus somewhat pleasing to imagine that this now egalitarian game was at its inception intended strictly for one gender; that indeed its very name declared it off limits to the fair sex (presumably keeping them from becoming "the fairway sex" as well). Women enjoy this notion because they take satisfaction from the image of having stormed and overcome a defended male bastion, whereas men like the specious word origin because it "confirms" that it's really their game, even if the ladies now run rampant through it.
Were it up to us to promote one false word origin over another, we'd argue for golf being flog backwards. Less sexist, and far more accurate a representation, we think.
Barbara "veteran of the golf war" Mikkelson
Last updated: 10 October 2006
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