Billiards (or is it Pool?)

I apologize for missing the first “Words Wednesday” for a post last week. I was in Milwaukee, attending the Property Records Industry Association conference. What a fun town! Perfect weather, lots of people out walking, running, riding bicycles. Extremely friendly folks everywhere (even the TSA check-in lady at the airport was pleasant!).

We stayed downtown at the Pfister hotel (pronounced with a silent “p”), originally built over 100 years ago. It was beautiful! The artistic designs for the stairs and hotel rooms were amazing, and there were paintings and other artwork throughout the hotel. I particularly liked the fact that all three lamps in my room were different styles. If you are ever in Milwaukee, make a trip to the hotel. The lobby, itself, is a wonder, with beautiful gilded ceilings and walls (plus a beautiful old-styled bar . . . from what I noticed . . . lol).

In every room was a book about the hotel’s history and artwork. From there I learned something about this month’s post – billiards! Here is the quote from the book: “The early Pfister had two billiard rooms. One for the men and one for the women. Billiards actually began about the 15th century and started as a lawn game somewhat similar to croquet. When they moved the game inside, a green cloth was incorporated to simulate the grass. The original tables had flat walls for rails and helped keep the balls on the table. It was said they resembled riverbanks. Once people discovered that they could use the walls to bounce balls in a desired direction, the term “bank shot” came into being. This popular game was a big hit at the Pfister. In fact, the Brunswick company designed a one-of-a-kind billiards table for the hotel that became the prototype for one of their best-selling models.”

You know that I couldn’t stop there because now I wanted to know the difference between billiards and pool (which I have been known to play in my time . . .😉. From the website, I learned that billiards usually involves hitting a cue ball so that it contacts an object ball, some number of cushions, and then a second object ball. Pool, on the other hand, is known as ‘pocket billiards’ because it involves hitting the cue ball so that one of 7 object balls (striped or solid) falls into a pocket, then pocketing the 8-ball to win. Oh, and there is also a game called “snooker” that is played on a similar table.

Words we use in playing these sports are often used in regular conversation, like “carom.” Carom (to bounce off of something) is from ‘carambola’ in Spanish and Portuguese and ‘carombole’ in French where many believe billiards originated. The French influence explains another common pool term – massé – to curve the ball. I thought it might have something to do with massage 😊, but no, it really comes from the French for mace or sledgehammer! Not at all my kind of massage, thank you . . . 😂.

4 thoughts on “Billiards (or is it Pool?)”

  1. I’m very sorry I didn’t attend PRIA and get the chance to see you! Fascinating history of the hotel, I was sorry I cancelled my reservation 🙁 especially with the history of the Brunswick Company and billiard tables! I love the etymology of “bank shot” how fun!
    My husband grew up in the UK watching Snooker on tv and playing it, it’s a fun game but my aim is the same, no matter what I play after a couple trips to the bar.

  2. Thanks for this post, Barbara. This was indeed full of interesting and informative information. When my husband and I were dating and when we first got married, we used to go to this dive bar where they had some billiards tables and we would play. Sometimes it was one-on-one and sometimes it was two-on-two, depending on how many friends showed up, but it was always with 15 balls instead of 8. I had always referred to what you described as “pool” as simply “8-ball.” I never knew that in billiards you were supposed to have the cue ball hit one object ball, cushions, and then another object ball. Sounds like we were playing a hybrid of billiards and pool since there was never a second object ball involved, unless, like I did on a regular basis, you made a really bad shot. LOL!

    • Interesting about 15 balls instead of 8! But thank you for reminding me that “8-ball” is often used as the name of the game (as I now remember from when I played a million years ago). According to the Internet, billiards and pool have several versions, with different rules, too! It’s fun to imagine the first person who decided to take an outside game and turn it into something that could be played indoors. I wonder if the first ‘gamers’ thought the idea was crazy or took to it right away. In today’s world, we would probably say something like “You could make a million dollars!” 🤑


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