Word of the Week (108): COTTABUS (probability 26760), by David Sutton

COTTABUS (or KOTTABOS) is a game originating in Sicily, popular among the ancient Greeks, in which reclining guests attempted to throw the remains of their wine from their cups into a metal bowl, the conditions being that no drop should be spilled in the process and that a distinct splashing noise should be made upon impact. Now, this may well sound only marginally more entertaining than watching 'X Factor', but I presume one has to imagine that a good deal of the said wine has been consumed beforehand, and in these conditions, as I have often somewhat uncomprehendingly observed, human beings seem to find the most unlikely things amusing.

While on the theme of 'Ah, we made our own entertainments back then', let me point you in the direction of other fun pastimes from the old days. FILLIPEEN (also spelt PHILIPPINA, PHILIPPINE, PHILOPENA or PHILOPOENA) was a game in which a man and woman each ate a twin kernel of a nut and then each tried to claim a gift or forfeit from the other at their next meeting by fulfilling certain conditions, such as by being the first to exclaim 'philopena!'. I suppose that with the right sort of forfeit this could be more fun than it sounds.

CRAMBO (plural CRAMBOS or CRAMBOES) was a game in which one player gave a word or line of verse to be matched in rhyme by other players. MUMCHANCE was a somewhat mysterious old game of dice or cards, the rules of which are not known now, but which appeared to require the players to be silent; the word survives (just about) in adjectival form, as in 'he stood there mumchance'.

CROKINOLE was a board game popular in Canada in which players flicked wooden discs; possibly it is akin to our SHUFFLEBOARD or SHOVELBOARD. MUMBLETYPEG was a game of throwing knives to make them stick in the ground. SPILLIKINS (or SPILIKINS or SPELLICANS) was a game that involved picking one spillikin, spilikin or spellican (a small slip of wood, ivory etc.) out of a heap without disturbing the rest.

If all these pastimes sound a little tame after Scrabble, perhaps a more outdoor pursuit might appeal, say a brisk game of BUZKASHI, which is played in Afghanistan by teams horsemen contesting possession of a goat's carcass. I'll look at these more robust possibilities next week.


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