41. Chess and draughts in the Netherlands, 18th c.
Between 1769 and 1779, the Dutch historian Johannes le Francq van Berkhey published a four-volume work on all kinds of aspects of the Dutch society. There were translations in French (1781) and German (1779-1782). In the Netherlands much draughts and little chess, he reported [1776 III:141]. As the consequence of the research by the Dutch draughts player G. Bakker Wzn. in the 1920s and successors in the second half of the 20th c. ‒the research is continued‒, we can underpin Francq van Berkhey’s words with figures. Result of investigations into inventories of the town of Weesp (province North Holland) in the period 1700-1780: 12 draughtboards and 0 chessboards. Result of investigation into inventories in the city of Delft (province South Holland) in the period 1700-1794: 35 draughtboards and 3 chessboards. In the past, I established in chapter 40, chess was a game for the city. See for sources Stoep 20072:70-80.
Draughts words and chess words
18th c. Holland housed few chess players, tell us the figures. These chess players borrowed words that had to do with promotion from draughts players. I sketch the context. This demands a lot of exercises about words in medieval French and borrowings in Spanish and Dutch, but I cannot explain the matter in an easier way.
The matter? Well, in the years I worked on my PhD thesis I experienced it as a Gordian knot. French has, for instance, the word dame = chess queen and the game name jeu des dames = draughts. “The chess word dame is the older one”, stated chess historian Harold Murray. “And therefore the literal sense of jeu de dames is ‘game with chess queens’, which proves that chess is the mother of draughts”. Was Murray right or wrong? An excursion for years in medieval French taught me he was wrong: the game name jeu de dames is older than the name of the chess queen.
To come to this conclusion, I studied two words in medieval French.
The first one was dame = woman of rank. This word is the continuation of the Latin word domina = mistress, sovereign. Writers used the word dame already in the 11th c.
Below a modern artist evoked medieval life: a wandering minstrel, a troubadour, sings his song for dames. Present English still has this word dame, borrowed from medieval French, like other languages as Dutch, German and Spanish (Spanish form dama).
The second word was dam = dam which stops the water, dike. In the 13th c., Flemish dike workers reclaimed swamps in northern France. They laid a ring-shaped dam (dike) around a swamp. French dike workers borrowed the words dam and dijk (French digue) from the Flemings. They pronounced the word dam like the Flemings did in those days and Flemish and Dutch people do today. See about this borrowing chapter 3.
Not later than the 14th c. the French word dam underwent an extension of meaning, i.e. the word got new meanings. It happened when European draughts players transferred their game from the lined board to the chessboard. French draughts players devised a name for this “new” game, by giving the word dam = dam, dijk a new, second, meaning: row of squares near the edge of the board where the draughts singleton is promoted. Briefly promotion row. In the 14th c., this word dam = promotion row was the basis for the verb dammer = to promote a draughts singleton, literally “to reach the dam” and for the noun dammes = draughts. In the 15th c. the noun dam (or the verb dammes?) was extended with the meaning draughts singleton.
In the 14th or 15th c. French chess players trod on the stage: they borrowed the noun dam = promotion row and possibly also the verb dammer = to promote a singleton (piece) from draughts players. In chess terms: dam with its meaning row where the pan is promoted to queen, dammer meaning to promote a pawn to queen, literally “to reach the dam”.
Language is evolving. Linguists from the Netherlands (it is only an example) are trying to find how their medieval forefathers pronounced words. On their instruction actors played medieval plays. In modern ears this can sound uncommon: between say the 14th and 21st c. words can have got quite another pronunciation.
French too was subject to changes. Medieval French had many words with what I call the dull A of the English words calm and father. In the late Middle Ages, the French started to replace the dull A in all words by the clear AA. An in our days often used word is dame, meaning woman. (This clear AA is uncommon in the English sound system). As a consequence, the noun dam = promotion row and draughts singleton > dame, the noun dammes = draughts > dames, the verb dammer = to promote a singleton or pawn > damer. (The symbol > means: is changed into).
The sound change caused homonymy: French had now the older word dame = woman of rank and the newer word dame = draughts singleton, promotion row in draughts and promotion row in chess.
In the 16th c. this situation became more intricate: French chess players borrowed the word dama = chess queen from Spanish chess players; the French form became dame. More information on this chess queen in the next part of the text.
Spanish borrows from French
The great majority of the Spanish lexicon consists of words which are a continuation of a Latin word. Furthermore, the Spaniards borrowed words from French (and other languages). In the 13th c. for example, Spanish borrowed the French word dame = woman of rank, Spanish form dama.
In the 15th (?) c. Spanish draughts players borrowed from their French colleagues both the noun dam = draughts singleton and promotion row (Spanish form dama), and the noun dammes = draughts (Spanish form damas). The verb dammer = to promote a draughts singleton too? Spanish chess players borrowed the noun dam = promotion row (Spanish form dama), from French chess players. And the French verb dammer = to promote a pawn to queen too?
These borrowings enriched the Spanish lexicon with a homonym: the older word dama = woman of rank next to the new word dama = draughts singleton and promotion row.
It is necessary to make a remark about the dull French sound A in a word as dam and the clear AA in a word as dame = woman of rank. The Spaniards are using the dull A but prefer the clear AA. Therefore it is conceivable that at the time of the borrowing the French pronounced their words with the dull vowel A.
The chess queen
In the second half of the 15th c., Spanish chess players gave their game a face-lift by allowing the queen a wider range. See two chess queens below. Spanish chess obtained a new queen to say so. The chess players called this new queen dama. This word dama is a new meaning of the word dama = row where the pawn is promoted to queen. The first meaning of the “new” dama was queen as the result of promotion. Chess players soon extended the meaning to queen, regardless if the piece is the result of a promotion or it is the piece beside the king in the initial position. See for the developments in Spain and the naming process chapter 4 and chapter 5.
The etymology of the Spanish word dama = chess queen as the result of my research is as follows. Sp. dama = chess queen < row where the pawn is promoted to queen < Fr. dame < Fr. dam = row where the pawn is promoted to queen < row where the draughts singleton is promoted to doubleton < Fr. dam = dike, dam to stop the water.
Etymological dictionaries explain the French word dame or the Spanish word dama as a new meaning of Fr. dame or Sp. dama = woman of rank. Are they off the mark? Yes, they are. The writer of an etymological dictionary does not get the time to investigate each word thoroughly, his book would never come to an end. I was in the position I could spend many years to find the etymon of only one word!
Dutch borrows from French
In the course of the ages, Dutch borrowed a lot of words from French. Among them words with the dull A and the clear AA. The Dutch always kept the French sound. Three examples. In the 12th c. Dutch borrowed the French word bac = basis, bowl, bin; it adopted the dull A: bak. In the 13th c., Dutch borrowed the French word dame = woman of rank; it adopted the clear AA. In the 18th c. Dutch borrowed the French word dame = chess queen; it adopted the clear AA. My first reference is the Dutch translation of a book written by Philippus Stamma, “Proeven van het schaakspel” (1766). See for more proofs Stoep 1997:132.
In the 15th (?) c., draughts playing Flemings (Flemish is a Dutch dialect) borrowed three words from French: the noun dam = draughts singleton and promotion row, the noun dammes = draughts and the verb dammer = to promote a draughts singleton to doubleton (king).
I zoom in on the word dam. Dutch draughts playing people can say “Ik loop naar dam” (I go to dam) and “Ik haal dam” (I reach the dam). In these two sentences the word dam means promotion row. I call this the topical meaning of the word dam. The word dam also means promoted piece, doubleton. I call it the material meaning. The Dutch are unaware of this subtle difference, as draughts players are mixing the topical and material meaning, saying “Ik haal dam” (I manage to reach the promotion row) and “Ik haal een dam” (I manage to get a king).
Back to the 15th (?) c. As said, Flemish draughts players borrowed the French word dam with its topical meaning promotion row and its material meaning draughts singleton. The Dutch language of our days still use the word in the meaning promotion row. The material meaning underwent a change. Until the late 17th c., Dutch draughts players called the draughts singleton dam. The name for the promoted singleton was dubbele dam, literally “two pieces on top of each other”.
Today, the word dam means promoted draughts singleton, a meaning it received around 1700. Ever since that time the name for the draughts singleton is schijf or steen.
Enough about draughts words, I switch to chess words.
In the past, Dutch writers of chess books used the word dam in the meaning row where the pawn is promoted to queen. Kersteman [1786, 1808]: “De pionnen hebben genen anderen loop, dan regtuit voorwaarts op het bord, telkens ééne ruit, tot zij aan dam of op den rand der tegenpartij stuiten” (The pawns can only pass one square with every move, only straight on, until they reach the dam or the edge of the opponent). Zuylen van Nyevelt 1792:61: “de Pions niet ver van Dam” (the pawn not far from the promotion row). Both writers used the topical meaning of the word dam. The situation below shows a pawn which is going to enter the dam = promotion row.
The topical noun dam has the belonging verb dammer, meaning to promote a pawn to queen. Henryk Takama (see for him chapter 40) wrote in 1659: [de ruiten] “die Soldaaten of voet-gangers door mosten om gedampt te worden” (the squares pawns had to pass before they could be promoted to queen). The verb dammer was incorporated in the dictionary of Pierre Marin, in 1786 updated by John Holtrop. Holtrop gives the Dutch verb dammer as the equivalent of the French verb damer, with the elucidation the verb dammer is used in chess.
Is it possible that Dutch chess players borrowed the French noun dam and the French verb dammer in an early stage, for instance in the 15th c.? It is possible but not plausible, because there is a proof that Dutch chess players borrowed these two words from Dutch draughts players.
In the 17th c., Takama called the promoted chess pawn dubbele dam, see chapter 40. So, he used a draughts word to explain what happens on the chess board. In this time, the word dam meant draughts singleton.
Around 1700, draughts players did not use this dubbele dam any longer as the result of a shift: the word dam was going to mean doubleton, king. We find this word dam meaning promoted pawn in the vocabulary of chess players, which proves they are following developments in the draughts vocabulary. Zuylen van Nyevelt wrote: “de Pions niet ver van Dam” (the pawns not far from dam = promotion row (topical meaning) beside “een pion die ten minsten een Dam haalen moet” (a pawn wich should get a dam (material meaning, see the Dutch article een = the English article a) [1792:69]. This word dam meant queen as the result of promotion.
The Dutch-German chess historian van der Linde used in 1877 the word dam in the wider sense of queen, summing up six pieces: king, bishop, horse, rook, pawn and dam. There is the same extension of meaning as we earlier saw in Spain: the word dam first meant queen as the result of promotion, later queen, no matter it regarded the queen in the initial position or a promoted pawn.
Louis Gans wrote in his chess book (“Het schaakspel”) 1923:23: “Men noemt dit ook wel dam of dame halen”. Gans used the topical word dam and the material word dame as synonyms.
In 1903 Herman Johannes den Hertog regarded the word dam in the sense of chess queen obsolete, but he did not change it in the 1937 edition.
The first Dutch chess books
I am fully aware of the fact that what I brought up in this chapter is somewhat indigestible. As a compensation in chapter 42 a rather easy story about the first Dutch chess books.