Friday, June 12, 2009

Rich Man’s Hockey

I attended a match at the Santa Barbara Polo Club on Sunday — my first ever, in fact. And despite preconceived notions of the stands being populated solely by upper-crusties, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it all. Horses, yelling, the regular thwack of mallets striking hard surfaces — and, because I did it in Santa Barbara, the strangeness of being able to see mountains, grass, the 101, and the Pacific Ocean all in one quick turn of the head.

I did my best to capture the thrill of horseback sport with my phone camera, but the results were somewhat lacking.



I had better luck photographing things just a few feet away.


Because those photos were mostly unsatisfying, I’ll interpret the event the best way I know how.

The word polo arrives in English from Balti, a language that, while spoken in India, is part of the Sino-Tibetan language family and not the Indo-European one that includes, for example, Hindi and English and about all the languages spoken in the lands between. In its original form, pulu, the word just meant “ball.” I can’t help noticing similarities between pulu and words like pellet and pelota and others that descend from the Latin pila, also meaning “ball.” Unless I’m mistaken, there’s not too much reason that the pulu and pila would be related, given their divergent histories. (It’s usually at this point that I’d check this on the American Heritage Dictionary, but I’ve found that its online hideout, Bartleby, no longer seems to feature it or anything dictionaries.)

By sitting through Sunday’s match, I also learned that polo’s six seven-minute periods of play are called chukkers or chukkas. (The same pair of terms can also refer to the boots polo players wear, however.) Unlike polo itself, chukker does descend from Hindi, going back to the Sanskrit cakra meaning “circle” or “wheel.” The same Sanskrit word also gives us chakra, which should be familiar to even the most yogically challenged and which are explained and often even represented as round, wheel-like things. Again, I’ve got nothing to back this up, but I wonder if chukker’s etymological connection to wheels could work along the same lines as the English round in the sense of a bout of play or even a setting of drinks. You know, wheels being round and all.

Further links (per recommendation by Zemanta, which I am not quite sure about)

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