What's the origin of "English," the kind you put on a ball?

Now I’m not American … or English … but I am a native English speaking Australian.

In the extremely English sport of cricket, all sorts of terms are used to describe the ball doing something mysterious, usually by the intention of the bowler or the mistake of the batter.

For example, when the cricket ball gets old, it can be swung in the opposite direction to the way it swings when it’s new, with no visible change in the bowler’s action. This is called Irish Swing.

Also for example, slow bowlers generally impart a spin on the ball to make it go one way or the other after bouncing, thus confusing the batter. One of the stock deliveries of slow bowlers is one that looks as though it is going to break one way and then breaks the other. This is called a Chinaman.

And further for example, there is a rather elegant batting stroke called the cut. A misplayed cut, where the ball comes off the bat obliquely in an unintended direction, is called a French cut.

All this is by way of suggesting that perhaps the use of “English” could originate in the same type of somewhat perjorative word use, where something opposite is called Irish, something inscrutable and untrustworthy is Chinese, some mistake is called French. Taking it further, an Indian giver, going Dutch; so something English is … weird, unexpected, clever, sophisticated, untrustworthy, tricky, duplicitous?

my $0.02

Link to staff report: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1634/whats-the-origin-of-english-the-kind-you-put-on-a-ball

It could, but the Online Etymological Dictionary says:

I’m not sure what their evidence for that is. The OED doesn’t mention such an etymology and the earliest cite there is 1869. The etymology it gives is also speculative, but at least they say so.

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, scoddy, glad to have you here, and thanks for the interesting comments on other terms.

When you start a thread, it’s helpful to other readers if you provide a link to the column or staff report in question. Saves lots of search time. In this case, I’ve added it at the bottom of your post. No biggie, you’ll know for next time. And, as I say, welcome – hang around, look at some of the other threads and posts, we hope you’ll find it interesting.

Sounds a bit circuitous to me.
The etymology for Body English seems to refer back to English as in the spin you’d put on a ball. I don’t have an OED, but the time lines seem to fit with Body English stemming from English.

It’s up for debate, but the reason it’s a “chinaman” in cricket is 'cos it was first bowled by a West Indian bowler of Chinese ancestry.


Never heard that expression.

We know it as reverse swing. I can’t even recall a guest Australian commentator on TV using the term during a game, but perhaps I haven’t been paying as much attention to Shane Warne et al off the pitch as I did when they were on it.

Damien Fleming calls it “irish swing”, so I guess it’s an aussie thing.

scoddy said:

I’m curious about this. When you say “swung”, what exactly do you mean? You don’t appear to be talking about the action of the bowler’s arms, you appear to be talking about motion of the ball itself. Que?

How does the age of the ball affect it’s swing?

I guess I should pay more attention to Australians.

From a BBC cricket page:

What is Reverse Swing?, specifically “How does it Work?”

See previous paragraphs for how and why the ball deteriorates.