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‘Racket’ or ‘Racquet’?

Whether you choose the "racket" or "racquet" spelling depends a bit on what game you're playing.

By
Mark Allen, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #662
racket or racquet?

The game of racquetball has an unusual spelling that looks vaguely French but actually isn’t. Racquetball players may suffer from confusion about what to call the implement they use to bang a ball about when they play. What they hold is known as a “racket” or a “racquet.” Players are probably safe using either spelling, but most sources consider “racquet” to be a variant, especially outside a racquetball court.

The word “racquetball is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year. But the game of “rackets” involving hitting a ball about in an enclosed area, is more than 500 years old. Chaucer compares “playen raket to and fro” to falling in and out of love in “Troilus and Cressida.”

The word “raquecte” shows up in France in the 15th century, and the earlier English references could be to a game using the hand rather than an implement for striking the ball. There is an earlier Arabic word, “rahah,” for palm of the hand.

The “qu” spelling for “racquet" first appears in the Oxford English Dictionary corpus in 1709 in relation to a lacrosse stick (“lacrosse," meaning “the stick,” is French). The “racquet” spelling for a game or implement seems to be a North American invention, later used in reference to rackets as played in England.

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Rackets—which involved hitting a ball against a wall rather than over a net—evolved into squash. Racquetball evolved from a similar game called paddleball, which was originally played by tennis players at the University of Michigan around 1930. They practiced indoors on squash courts when the weather was bad, substituting ping pong paddles for their tennis rackets and then a hard rubber ball for the fuzzy tennis ball. In 1949, a tennis pro named Joe Sobek added strings back into the paddle and came up with the rules for what he called “paddle rackets.”

In 1969, at the sport’s first large tournament in St. Louis, competitors decided on one prominent player’s suggestion to call the sport “racquetball,” and the International Racquetball Association was formed. 

The "qu" spelling of “racquet” is well-established, even if there is little logic or history behind it. The Associated Press Stylebook prefers the “racket” spelling and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary both call “racquet” a variant spelling of “racket.” 

The game returned to England in 1976, played on a squash court with a different ball and some different rules. It was called “racketball.” In 2016, the World Squash Federation decided to rebrand the game as “squash 57,” referring to the 57 mm diameter of the ball, which is the same size as its American cousin, but bigger than a 40 mm squash ball. Their hope is to eliminate confusion of that game with the different mostly North American game of racquetball.

There are a few other meanings for “racket,” the most common being a loud din or commotion and a dishonest way of making money. We don’t know the origin of those senses, but the noisy and disorderly meaning first appeared in the mid-16th century. It could be from a Scottish word, “racaid,” meaning noise.

That segment was written by Mark Allen, a freelance copy editor based in Columbus, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter at @EditorMark.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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