Since I had so much fun writing about the etymology of sports terms last week (and also because I had so much research left over) I thought it would be a good idea to do it again — I hope you agree.

First up are a few hockey terms beginning with “deke,” which is a deceptive movement or feint that’s meant to move an opponent out of position. The word “deke,” as you’d expect, comes from “decoy.”

When a player scores on a shot between the goalie’s legs, the puck has gone through the “five hole,” which is so called because it’s another good place to score other than the four corners of the goal.

Another theory says the five hole got its name from a Canadian version of bowling, which uses just five pins, with the middle pin being worth five points. So it follows that if only the middle pin is knocked down, it leaves the five hole.

And if a player scores three times through the five hole — or anywhere else — during a game it is, of course, a “hat trick,” a term that has been in the Oxford English Dictionary since 1877. It got its name, according to the Hockey Hall of Fame, when Toronto businessman Sammy Taft offered to give a hat to any player who scored three times in an outing. (A player who scores four times in a game is said to have achieved a “Texas hat trick,” because everything’s bigger in Texas, right? Especially their propensity to brag.)

Similar to shooting the puck through the five hole, is something called “nutmegging,” or kicking the ball between an opponent’s legs in soccer. Although “nutmeg” is a word for “leg” in Cockney rhyming slang, most sources give the spice trade between North America and Great Britain credit for the term’s origin.


It seems that nutmegs were so expensive that pieces of wood were often slipped into the sacks to increase their weight, and anyone buying a sullied sack looked foolish. Former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was so good at making other players look foolish with his between-their-legs moves that he inspired a poster reading “Suarez can nutmeg a mermaid.”

Another similarity soccer has with hockey is the three-goal “hat trick,” which is probably pretty rare. More common, I imagine, would be the two-goal “brace,” which was old French for “a pair of arms” and later Old English for a pair of something, such as a duck or goose, that was killed or shot down.

Another sports word we get from the French is the tennis score of “love.” Meaning “zero,” it reportedly comes from “l’oeuf,” which means “egg,” or in this case “goose egg.” An “ace” in tennis is, of course, a serve that’s so good it wasn’t even touched by the opponent, while a “deuce” is so called because it indicates the score is tied at 40-40 and a player needs to score two (deuce) consecutive times in order to win the game.

If a player serves enough aces, he or she would probably win the game “hands down,” which comes to us from the world of horse racing. The term, which has been in the Oxford English Dictionary since 1867, came about when jockeys, certain of victory, dropped their hands, relaxing their hold on the reins.

Another horse-racing term is “down to the wire,” which comes from the late 19th-century practice of stretching a wire above the finish line to help the judges determine which horse had won. According to Merriam-Webster “down to the wire” means “unsettled until the very end,” which is where we are now.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at

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