Where does the term 'English' come from, with regards to an athlete applying a spin to a ball? I've heard it mainly in billiards and basketball, but elsewhere too.

I have tried looking this up on Wikipedia. It does not give the story of the origin of the term.


According to this answer the story goes that an enterprising gentleman from these shores travelled to the United States during the latter part of the last century and impressed the Americans with a demonstration of the effect of ‘side’ on pool or billiard balls. His name was English.

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  • 2
    Or more accurately, that answer notes that the OED speculates this is the origin. – Philip Kendall Mar 21 '17 at 16:16
  • It seems there's no other story out there... – Jason P Sallinger Mar 21 '17 at 18:54

Looking through several online dictionaries, my spouse found multiple references to the term "body English" morphing into an intended spin on a ball. Given that automatic reaction when bowling or shooting pool when trying to get the ball to spin the way you want to, it makes sense. However, the folksiness of it being named after a "foreigner" named English, quite charming, as the Brits would say.

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