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Why do Americans and Canadians call side-spin 'English'?

Postby Dan-cat

This was a question raised by Baddy in the pre-tournament chat for the Ladbrokes Grand Prix. I know that Acesinc doesn't dip into the tournament chat as he doesn't have time to follow them, so thought I'd bung it in here to get his opinion.

It's always been intriguing to me.

So - why is spin referred to as English by our US and Canadian friends?

Some theories postulated by the World Wide Web:

- Possibly a reference to hall-of-fame basketball player Alex English. English is an all time top scorer, who scored with technique rather than strength or speed.

- The phrase "Put some English on it" might be a reference to "Old English" a brand of furniture polish.

- “English” is a botched translation of the French “angle” (meaning “angled”), which was mistaken by someone for “Anglais,” meaning “England.”

- Another theory is that the technique was introduced to the US by English pool sharks in the 19th century.

...and this one, which backs up my 'tricksy' theory (I always thought that it was called English because it was a bit tricksy/underhand):

- I suspect that “English” in this sense is just another example of our tendency to label anything even faintly exotic as “foreign” and perhaps faintly disreputable and unfair. If I’m right, “English” is a fairly mild product of the same national finger-pointing that gave us such terms as “French leave” for desertion from the army, “Dutch nightingale” for a frog, and “Irish confetti” for bricks thrown in a street brawl.

Re: Why do Americans and Canadians call side-spin 'English'?

Postby acesinc

Hi Dan. Really busy with the company (a good thing), so I will try to put in a quick tuppence on the subject.

First, I don't know the answer to this with any certainty. I have read (or just browsed really, not full readings yet) some really old publications going back to pre-20th century that I believe do shed some light on this subject. It would seem to go back to the earliest days centuries ago when the French and English versions of Billiards were diverging. The basic difference of course the French table with no pockets (more similar to lawn bowls wherein the balls themselves are the target) while the English table has pockets (more similar to a lawn game like croquet the target being a destination of some sort). In fact, my understanding is that very early tables had hoops instead of pockets for targets.

Today of course, most players and spectators know Snooker but there were many, many different games played on the tables before modern Snooker evolved from combining several of those predecessors. English Billiards was perhaps the most important of those and still quite popular in its own right.

So the most popular American game I guess was most similar to the English game (though Three Cushion Billiards without pockets still has a fair following. If you are a masochist, try it. This game makes Snooker seem quite simple to master by comparison.) Anyone who knows English Billiards at all knows that Losing Hazards are a primary method of scoring. Proper application of sidespin generally makes completing a Losing Hazard much simpler and certain. You also need to understand that prior to Captain Minguad somewhere around the 1820's I think coming up with the idea of a leather tip, people were just poking a ball with a wooden stick. Hit it off center and you miscued. Someone (I forget who) shortly after the leather tip was invented came to realize that a gritty substance on the tip would help prevent miscues even if struck off center. And that simply led to the natural realization that one could make efficient use of striking off center on purpose. It's not like they played for years and decades with leather and chalk and one day a light bulb turned on and someone said, "Hey, what would happen if I strike White off center?" I believe it was really a natural result of the evolution of the equipment. We tend to take all these things for granted today and don't often reflect on the long and storied history of these things.

So I think the rest of the story is obvious. There was some international interaction at the time, say around the middle of the 1800's (which is important because other than the balls, the equipment was essentially evolved to its current form by then. The balls unfortunately still required the needless slaughter of far too many majestic elephants at that time.), but it is not like someone could hop on an aeroplane and be in London in time for tea. There was clearly a meeting between a great English player and a great American player of the time (I am thinking John Roberts the Senior and the American Mr. Starke (I think it was Jonathon but not sure), but really it may have been any of the great players of the time. Upon the return home of the American, the billiard world of the USA would have been stunned by the "technological advances" that Starke introduced and this amazing, magical sidespin would become known as "English" (or really "english") ever since.

The point is, I believe it was the advancement in the materials that made it all possible. You can't apply "english" with a hickory switch. No proof of any of this, just my own opinion based on various evidence I have cobbled together.