baseball

When examining the origins of a word one must be careful to distinguish between the word and the thing itself. The origin of the word is often quite different from the origin of the thing that it represents. Such is the case with baseball. In this case the word is much older than the game we today know by that name.

The first recorded use of baseball is in John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, which is the first children’s book for entertainment, as opposed to education, ever published. The book was first published in 1744, although no copies of the first nine editions survive. The word appears in the 1760 edition, the earliest to survive, and probably appeared in the earlier editions as well. The book, originally published in London, but reprinted several times in the United States, contains the following poem:

Base-ball
The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy1

The game described in Newberry’s book bears little resemblance to the modern game of baseball other than the use of a ball and bases. Judging from the picture that accompanies the poem, they didn’t even use a bat, instead striking the pitched ball with the hand. But despite the differences, this game of English baseball is clearly the progenitor of the modern game.2

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