A round robin is a type of sports tournament where all the players play one another in succession. This sense comes from an older, nautical jargon term referring to a document signed by mutineers. In a round robin document, the mutineers would sign their names in a circle, so the authorities could not identify the first to sign, who presumably would be the ring leaders. (Despite the temptation to connect round robin and ringleader, the two words are etymologically unconnected.) Some sources suggest that this usage of round robin comes from the French rond ruban, or round ribbon, that was tied around these petitions--but little evidence exists to support this guess. From the Weekly Journal of 3 January 1730:
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A Round Robin is a Name given by Seamen, to an Instrument on which they sign their Names round a Circle, to prevent the Ring-leader being discover’d by it, if found.
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton