The chess game reveals a multitude of linguistic particularities. The notion of the pawn as a “foot soldier” is consistent throughout the history of chess, with the Indo-European root for “foot” echoing all the way from the original Sanskrit padati, via the Latin pedester to modern English pawn.
With a good old-fashioned siege in mind, it is not such a big leap from castles and towers to “cannon,” which is what the piece is called throughout the Balkans. What is more puzzling is that the rook is called “ship” (or “boat”) in some other languages, including Russian. Is this because Arab rooks often were V-shaped, like a ship’s bow? Or because the piece moves in a straight line, like a ship ?
Nobody knows for sure.
Uniquely, the game’s central piece has maintained its original title throughout Europe. In the Indian game, it was called rajah, Sanskrit for “king.” The Persian equivalent shah gave rise to the name of the game itself in many other languages. As is well known, “checkmate” derives from the Persian for “the king is dead”.
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