Q I’m curious about the word “lacrosse.” I read once that the game was invented by the American Indians, but the word “lacrosse” doesn’t sound Native American to me. It sounds French. Can you explain?

A: The game of lacrosse was indeed invented by Native Americans, but they called it “baggataway.” The game as originally played was a little different from the modern sport. It involved more players (sometimes thousands), was played over a larger area (goals could be miles apart), and tended to be very rough (one of its purposes was to prepare warriors for battle). The basic idea, however, was the same: to score goals by using a long-handled implement to catch, carry and pass a ball. When French settlers in Canada saw the game, they thought the sticks resembled bishops’ crosiers, and so they called the game “la crosse,” literally “the crosier.”

This column was prepared by the editors of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition. Readers may send questions to Merriam-Webster’s Wordwatch, P.O. Box 281, 47 Federal St., Springfield, Mass. 01102.

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