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Friday, September 17, 2010

When coach was first class

With amateur sports getting into full swing, let's look at the originally Hungarian word “coach”. There are not many Hungarian words in English, but this is one. In late 15th-century Hungary, in the town of Kocs (pronounced COTCH), a new type of carriage was designed: the kocsi szeker. It must have been the Mercedes-Benz of its day, because all the best people throughout Europe just had to have one. It's a bit of a mystery why, because a picture of one from the 1500s shows a carriage with no roof and no suspension, but that's fashion for you. It got to England from France as coche in the mid-1500s, gradually applying to any kind of conveyance. In 19th-century Oxford student slang, a tutor who helped you improve your exam results (or your rowing) was a “coach”, because he carried or conveyed you along, sort of like a bus, geddit? Such wits they were.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.