If you’re not used to watching it, hockey can be a confusing game: it’s fast-paced, changes direction quickly, and play suddenly seems to stop for no apparent reason. Much like the name for the sport itself, hockey.
The word first appeared in English in the early 1500s, where it was first used obliquely to refer to a sport that seems to be similar to today’s field hockey: “...and also at no tyme to use ne ocupye the horlinge of the litill balls with hockie stickes or staves ... ” (Galway Statues in the Tenth Report of the Royal Commission of Historical Manuscripts, 1527).
And then, hockey (the word) apparently dropped off the map. There’s a reappearance of it in one of William Cowper’s letters from 1785 (“The boys at Olney have likewise a very entertaining sport, which commences annually upon this day. They call it Hockey, and it consists in dashing each other with mud, and the windows also”), but then it comes back into use in the early 1800s to refer to a few different games that involved hitting a small ball or object with a stick.
The earliest use of the word hockey to refer to a game on the ice comes from the Times of London in 1840: “...he saw a number of boys playing hockey bang on the ice at the west end.” Whether this was the game we’re familiar with or another hybrid game, we don’t know, but by the 1860s, the word was in use to refer to a game played on ice using hooked, or the more-familiar crooked, bladed sticks in use today.
Hockey itself is likely an alteration of the earlier French word hoquet, which means “shepherd’s crook,” and which describes the shape of a field hockey stick.