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Q From Damian D Reese: I received this email today and I can’t find anything to disprove it yet: ‘In Scotland, a new game was invented. It was entitled Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden, and thus the word golf entered into the English language’. What do you say?

A That’s an excellent example of a kind of inventiveness that is very common. It seems to turn up especially often in a series of e-mail pieces that circulate eternally online.

Claims that word origins are acronyms are almost always spurious (other well-known examples are said — incorrectly — to be derived from the initial letters of “Constable On Patrol”, “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”, “Port Out, Starboard Home”, and “To Insure Promptness”). In fact, there’s no known example of a word being generated as a acronym before the beginning of the twentieth century (and they were rare until the inter-war years).

It’s easy to refute such suggestions by a look at a dictionary, though in this case the process may not enlighten you much, since the true origin of golf is unknown. There is a Scots word gowf for a blow or slap, but the experts think this probably comes from the game, rather than being its source. The name of the game may be related to a Dutch word kolf for a club or bat.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 Jan. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 5 January 2002.