Thursday, 1 May 2008


Back when I wrote about checkmate, nnyhav asked "So is stalemate then 'the thief is at a loss'?" That would be cool, but it doesn't look like it. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says

XVIII. f. synon. [obsolete] stale (XV-XVII), prob. - AN. estale, position, f. estaler be placed, f. Germ. *stall-; see STALL1, MATE2.

STALL1 is "division in stable or shed", from Old English steall from Proto-Germanic *stallaz, which the ODEE traces to *sta- "stand" (i.e. PIE *steh₂). On the other hand, the AHD traces it to PIE *stel- "to put, stand", an unrelated root.

The Middle English verb was stālen "in chess: to trap (an opponent's king) in stalemate", and the noun was stāle "A stalemate in chess". It's also related to finger-stall, a sheath worn over the finger for protection. zmjezhd has a collection of Google Books scans of finger-stalls.

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