Recently a couple of squash friends in Santa Fe emailed about the etymology of the word boast.
My Oxford English Dictionary starts off by listing the ancient spellings of the word, which can be found before the year 1300. “Their mutual relation and origin are unknown,” it says, almost throwing up their hands. “Various conjectures and comparisons may be seen in Wedgwood and E. Muller, but nothing to purpose.”
Love that: nothing to purpose.
The term, squash-wise, originates in court tennis, the ancient game that has been played for a thousand years. But where did tennis get boast? The OED suggests a couple of origins. My favorite is the masonry term boast, which is to pare stone irregularly with a broad chisel and mallet. In other words, to smooth stone. That feels right, as least as far as my reverse volley double boast used to be concerned.
The other term is one from sculpture, meaning to “shape a block roughly before putting in details.” That might be my trickle boast.
A common origin is thought to be bosse, the French word for swelling or relief or bump, as in the art term ronde bosse or “full relief.” This was an encrusted enameling technique that became popular at the same time that tennis did, in the fourteenth century. Ronde bosse, the OED says with a dismissive nod, “has been suggested but with little apparent fitness.”
Until a word historian puts this to rights, I tend to side with the masons not the enamelers.