Throwing for teams in a melee

One traditional technique for creating melée teams is to “throw” for teams.


The process begins with someone (the club president, for example) assuming the role of competition organizer. He (or she) takes a head count of the number of members wishing to play.

On the basis of the count, he decides what kinds of teams are needed. Suppose, for example, that there are 14 players, and 3 pistes are available. Three pistes can accommodate three games — 6 teams — playing at the same time. Therefore, he needs to form 6 teams. So he might decide to organize four teams of two players and two teams of three players.

The players line up. The organizer places a jack in front of the players at some random distance, say eight to ten meters. Then, on the organizer’s count of “one… two… THREE!” everyone throws (points) their boules at the jack.

throwing_for_team_selection_01

The competition organizer then goes through the boules and assigns them to teams — the closest boule to team 1, the second closest boule to team 2, and so on.

The process works best when you have two people doing the organizing. One person selects the boules in order of their distance from the jack. He/she picks them up in order, and hands or rolls them to the second person, who arranges them into teams in the order in which he gets them.

In the photo below, Ronnie (the lady in the dark shirt) has laid out the boules of the six players from (her) right to left, to form the basis of six teams. Note that the boules are grouped into pairs. The pairing indicates which teams will play each other in the first round of games.

throwing_for_team_selection_02

The rest of the boules in turn, from closest to farthest, are added to the teams.

throwing_for_team_selection_03


The photo below is from a different meeting of the club, which was attended by 19 people. The organizer has decided to set up eight teams — five 2-person teams and three 3-person teams.

In the first round of games, team 5 (in which 2 players use 3 boules each) will play team 6 (in which 3 players use 2 boules each). If there are players that arrive later, they will be added (between games, or between ends) to one of the two-person teams.

throwing_for_team_selection_04


After the boules have been grouped into teams, each player picks up his own boule and finds out who his team-mate(s) will be.

To start the event, team 1 plays team 2, team 3 plays team 4, team 5 plays team 6, and so on. After that, as the various games finish, winners play winners and losers play losers.

throwing_for_team_selection_05

A possible variation of this technique (used by the Washington DC National Capitol Club de Petanque, where these pictures were taken in September 2013) is to conduct two separate throws. First there is a throw for the recognized shooters in the club. Then there is a second throw for everybody else. In a club with a wide variety of skill levels among the members, this helps to distribute the shooters more or less randomly among the teams.


Here is the London Petanque Club choosing teams via a melee, July 2014. You can watch it on YouTube HERE.

The London Petanque Club choosing teams via a melee.


Are your boules too big?


I’m beginning to suspect that most of the traditional advice on how to select boule size is bogus, and that many players may be playing with boules that are too big.

  1. The traditional advice and its problems
  2. Do shooters really play with bigger boules? Not any more.
  3. What happens when you play with boules that are too big?
  4. The solution — smaller boules



The traditional advice and its problems ▲

There is one question that all petanque players confront when purchasing competition boules — “What size should I purchase?”

There are two different schools of thought (theories, really) about how to select the size of boules.

  1. The Role-based Theory is that “It depends on what kind of player you are. Small boules for pointers, because small boules make small targets for shooters. Big boules for shooters, because a bigger missile is more likely to hit its target.”
     
  2. The Hand-size Theory is that “It depends on how big your hand is. Small boules for small hands. Big boules for big hands.”

There are problems with both of these schools of thought.

The Role-based Theory is pretty useless for the average player. Beginning players aren’t yet skillful enough to classify themselves as anything. In most games, most players will in fact be neither pointers nor shooters. Sometimes they will need to point, and sometimes they will need to shoot. The tripartite division of players into pointers, middle-men (millieux), and shooters really looks plausible only for world-class players playing triples.

The idea that a boule is a more difficult target, or a more effective missile, because its radius is one millimeter less or more than some other boule… well, that’s just ludicrous. It’s like telling a Marine sniper that he should use a larger caliber bullet because he’d have a better chance of hitting his target. Or telling a fat dictator that he needs to lose a few points so he’ll present a small target for an assassin.

Most damaging to the theory, though, is the fact that the whole idea is questionable. A big wheel is better than a small wheel at rolling over lumps and bumps in its path. That’s why bicycles have bigger wheels than roller skates. So you’d think that a pointer would want to play with larger, not smaller, boules. Byron Putman reports that “Many club players contend that a pointer should use the largest boule that he can comfortably throw.” [Petanque, p. 103] Conversely, it would seem sensible for a shooter to prefer a smaller, not bigger, boule. One would think that being able to really wrap your fingers around a smaller boule would give a shooter more control over the boule.

You see the problem here. These ideas are just theories that somebody came up with because a priori they seemed to make sense. But completely opposite theories also make sense. They are all just theories. They have no basis in actual facts. That’s what makes them bogus. As Byron Putman says, “Be skeptical of most club-level boule selection advice… because it is often based on urban myth and contradictory inferences.”

In contrast to the Role-based Theory, the Hand-size Theory seems practical and sensible. There is obviously a relationship between the size of a hand and the size of a boule that will fit comfortably into that hand. So the slogan “Small boules for small hands; big boules for big hands,” seems to make sense.

The problem lies in the practical application of the theory. Boules manufacturers have tried to create formulas based on this idea (“a player with hand-size X should use boules of size Y”). But the numbers in their formulas are questionable, if not downright bogus.

The first sign that something is fishy is the fact that different boules manufacturers offer different ways to measure your hand. In theory, if there was a specific feature of a hand that made a boule more or less suitable for that hand (the length of the fingers, for instance) then everybody would know that, and all boules manufacturers would ask for the same hand measurement. But they don’t. Some measure the length of the middle finger from the hand to the finger tip. Some measure the distance from the base of the hand (the wrist) to the finger tip. Others measure the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger. (Read our post on the various methods.) There is, in short, no standard formula for measuring hand size. Nobody really knows what should count as “a small hand” or “a big hand” for the purpose of picking boules.

You encounter the second bit of fishy business when (having measured your hand) you consult a manufacturer’s table that maps boule size to hand size. Suppose you measure your hand and get a measurement of X centimeters. And suppose that the table says that someone with that hand size should play with a boule of 74mm. But where did they get that number of 74mm? Could that number be wrong? With a hand size of X cm, perhaps you should be playing with a 71mm or 72mm or 75mm or 76mm boule. How do we — or they — know what size boule a person with an X-centimeter hand should use?

On the left, Steve Ferg (USA).  On the right, Daniel Duflot (France).  Which player do you think plays with the larger boule?

Steve Ferg (left, USA) and friend Daniel Duflot (right, France). Steve plays with a 74mm boule. Daniel uses a 75mm boule.

This brings us to the question of how much the choice of boule size is determined by anatomy, and how much it is determined by culture.

  • In the USA, a boule size of 73 mm seems to be the average for men, with smaller sizes such as 71 mm being popular with women. In France on the other hand, the most common diameters for men are 74–75 mm, and for women 72–73 mm.
  • Generic Chinese leisure boules of the kind that you might buy from Petanque America are about 73 mm, but Obut (French) leisure boules are 74 mm.
  • Since French players are probably on average smaller than American players, why are they using bigger boules?

And if French players prefer larger boules than Americans, and French boule manufacturers design their size-selection guidelines with their largest market (French players) in mind, it pretty much stands to reason that the size-selection guidelines provided by French boules manufacturers are going to tell Americans to buy boules that are larger than they will prefer.

And why do Americans follow the advice of French boules manufacturers?

When I used the hand charts, they said that I should play with a big boule — 76mm. Despite my gut feeling that that was too large, I went ahead and bought 76mm boules. Why?

  • Partly, it was because I was new at the game, I knew that I didn’t know much and I assumed that the boule manufacturers knew their business. As an ignorant newbie, I accepted established authority.
  • Partly, there was some stupid macho bullshit rattling around in my brain — the kind that equates “big” with “strong” and “manly”. And the fact that I actually am a tall guy helped me not to recognize the macho bullshit for the bullshit that it was.
  • But the strongest reason was the Role-based Theory. I wanted, some day, to become a really good petanque player, i.e. a shooter. So, I reasoned, I should buy shooter’s boules — big boules. The Role-based Theory led me, an aspiring shooter, into playing with boules that were too big.

I suspect the same kinds of things happen to other players.



Do shooters really play with bigger boules? Not any more. ▲

On Youtube, there is an interesting video of a clinic that Claudy Weibel gave at the 2012 Petanque America Open. After the clinic, during the question-and-answer period, one gentleman asks Claudy “When do you know that the boule is too big for a shooter? Because when we shoot, we like big boules, but what is too big?” And a bit later in the video we can see him with a boule in his hand, and it looks too big. It is pretty clear that he has been playing with, and having trouble with, a boule that is too large for his hand, and that he’s been doing it because of the tradition that shooters play with big boules.

Claudy’s answer is interesting. You can watch the video on YouTube, and I have made a transcript of the conversation (below). Note that Jean-Pierre Subrenat (president of the New York Petanque Club, and a very strong player in his own right) is translating for Claudy, and sometimes he offers his own thoughts as well as Claudy’s. The conversation begins at 12:15.

QUESTION:
When do you know that the boule is too big for a shooter? Because when we shoot we like big boules, but what is too big?

ANSWER:
It’s totally the contrary. Me [Claudy], I play 73. I [Jean-Pierre] used to play 75. Now I play 72.

A shooter doesn’t have to have big boules to shoot. On the contrary, you have to control the boule in your hand. [When you play with a smaller boule,] when you release the boule, you release it better, you can control it better with your fingers.

[Jean-Pierre, talking to the student:] I think this boule is too big for you, just by looking at your hand.

[They examine the boules. The student says that he thinks his boule is 76 or 77. Claudy compares his hand to the student’s hand. The hand sizes look to be about the same. Claudy says that he plays with a 73. The implication, of course, is that the student is probably playing with a boule that is about 3mm too big for him.]

I [Jean-Pierre] was playing 75, then with my team we got sponsored by KTK, the brand, and when they gave me the boules, I said I want 75. They said no, all the big players are playing with smaller and smaller boules. Quintais plays with 71. 71! And he’s bigger than you!

Yeah, the smaller… And that is a trend that is new. When you think that Quintais plays with boules that are smaller than my 72, its amazing, the results that he has.

When you point, you can control the smaller boule ten times better. All these years, I went from 75 to 72. I cannot play now with 75, at least not any more, at least not decently.

Dylan [Rocher] plays with 73. Marco [Foyot] plays with 74. Damien [Hureau] plays with 73.

QUESTION: So it’s a trend then?

ANSWER: It’s a trend. It’s the results… you see the results!

At the very end of the video Claudy makes some remarks in French that Pierre does not translate. I think I hear “It is important to have a good grip on the boule in the hand (bonne tenue en la main).” And later, something about “leaving the hand well (bien sortir en main).”

The bottom line is that Claudy and Jean-Pierre think that the old orthodoxy of “big boules for shooters” is dying. The new thinking is “Not too big. You can control a smaller boule better.”

I recently discovered more support for this idea. On August 16, 2014, there was an interesting post on one of the forums of the petanque710 web site. Its subject was diameter of the boules of shooters (Diamètre des boules des tireurs). Here is my rather free translation of the post.

When I started playing petanque I noticed that the majority of the players, and especially shooters, played with boules of 75 or 76 mm in diameter, with 75mm being the most used. But now I notice that small diameters (72-74) are being used, with diameters of 75 and 76 now being quite rare in games. And even more surprising, many of the great shooters are playing with the small diameters.

So I decided to make a list of the diameters and also the weights of the boules that the great players are now using. If you find any errors in my list, you can correct them and add other names to the list.

  • 76 – 700 – Foyot
  • 74 – 700 – Miléi
  • 74 – 690 – Quintais
  • 74 – 680 – W Chapeland
  • 74 – 680 – Fred Michel
  • 73 – 690 – Weibel
  • 73 – 690 – Savin
  • 73 – 690 – J L Devernois
  • 73 – 690 – Gasparini
  • 73 – 680 – S Chapeland
  • 73 – 680 – J Darodès
  • 73 – 680 – Dufeu
  • 73 – 680 – D Olmos
  • 72 – 680 – Dylan Rocher
  • 72 – 700 – Suchaud
  • 72 – 680 – Maillard
  • 72 – 680 – Leboursicaud
  • 71 – 700 – Gross
  • 71 – 680 – A Papon

The result, as you can see, is something that might seem strange. Almost all of the top female and male shooters in the world play with 71 and 72mm — the smallest diameter.



What happens when you play with boules that are too big? ▲

There seem to be two consequences of throwing boules that are too big. One is accuracy issues, and the other is forearm fatigue and soreness. These problems occur with notable regularity among women players, who as a group have smaller hands than male players.

Byron Putman, in his book Petanque, notes that many players compensate for throwing oversized boules by unconsciously pulling their fingers apart. There may also be undesired thumb friction. The result is that players throwing oversized boules often have chronic issues with undesired sidespin (causing non-linear rollout) and release hang-ups (which can cause difficulties in controlling the distance of a throw). [pp. 75-77]

In addition, a larger (or heavier) boule requires a greater gripping force. The player must squeeze the boule harder in order to hold it. The squeezing tightens the forearm flexor muscles, producing forearm fatigue and soreness. I’ve had a friend — a small lady player — tell me that she experiences forearm soreness. And Carl Herbert, of the Seattle Petanque Club, reported the same thing in a recent email exchange.

Yes, I believe you are correct that Americans use bad advice for selection of boules. After six months of playing daily with boules that caused my forearm to ache, I tried using smaller boules and found I shoot more accurately with them. I suspect I point better with smaller boules as well… I play mostly with a set of 71mm 650g boules now, and I like them very much.



The solution — smaller boules ▲

The obvious solution to the problems of boules that are too big, is to play with smaller boules. Byron Putman found this to be especially true for the women players in his group. [Petanque, pp. 104-5]

The minimum certified boule size is 70.5mm. According to the boule sizing chart a 71mm boule equates to the hand measurement between 170mm and 180mm. I’ve measured the hands of over 50 women with a variety of heights and bone structures. The average thumb to middle finger span is about 163mm which, according to most sizing charts, would specify a 69mm boule!

Putman tells the story of a female friend with a very small hand who suffered “chronic release issues” while using 71mm, 680g boules. Her release issues vanished when she switched to “competition junior” boules of 70.5mm, 650g.

Even 1/2mm and 30g can make a huge difference to a player with petite paws… Of the 12 regular women players in my summer group, eight of them throw [compet. juniors] — and they absolutely love them!

During my email conversation with Carl Herbert, he wrote

I think there is better advice to give newcomers than what I got myself. I feel strongly clubs should provide a range of boules for new players, especially smaller sizes. Many clubs provide only the 73mm Chinese-made boules or the 74mm Obut leisure boules for lending to beginners, and I think that is a grievous error. They start out hindered even before they know how to play the game.

I see a lot of new players buy Obut leisure boules because they are relatively inexpensive, but many women who start with such large-diameter boules have trouble with them. B.W. Putman mentions in his book that women in his area who play with junior boules (70.5mm, 650 to 670 grams) like them and play well with them. I like them too! I have yet to hear a reasoned explanation why anybody can’t play with smaller, lighter boules to good effect. Indeed, my experience has been that I generally play better with them.

Perhaps I will experiment again with larger-diameter boules in the future, but I expect I will always find smaller-diameter boules more precise. One reason is that boules with a relatively smaller fit within my hand permit me greater variation in my grip. The tactile variability of the boule in my hand allows me better consistency in how I grip it. I have a better feel for minor differences of my grip.

I started with my 71mm, 650-gram boules this past January after having played with 72mm boules for a few months. I had played with a set of junior boules during a visit to California, and I liked them very much. My benefit was immediate and considerable.

I suggest new players are better off starting with boules in the 70.5mm to 72mm range unless they have very large hands. Even then there’s no reason they can’t play the small boules for a while. I suggest it is better to start small and move gradually to larger sizes than it is to use the various selection guides to guess compromising sizes to suit an ideal skill level that players may attain in the future. The latter approach probably costs a player more money and accumulates more steel boules in their closets.

I can certainly identify with that last sentence. I have several sets of 76mm boules that are going up for sale on eBay one of these days.


In summary… There are good reasons to suspect that the traditional advice about boule size tends to steer players toward selecting and playing with boules that are too large. If you are having consistency or accuracy issues with your throwing, or are experiencing tiredness or soreness in your forearm, you should probably consider experimenting with a smaller size of boule.


 ▲

Removing a boule for measuring

Sometimes — before the agreement of points — you find yourself in a situation where you know which boule is closest, but you need to make a measurement in order to determine which boule is second. And sometimes you can’t make that measurement because the closest boule is in the way.

Which boule is closer - B or C ?

A has the point, but which boule is second? B or C ?
We must remove A in order to measure the distance to C.


In such a case, you need to mark and remove the first boule (A in our diagram), take the measurement, and then put it back exactly in its original position.

When tolerances are tight, this can be a tricky operation. Your marks on the ground may not be precise enough to allow you to be sure that you’ve put it back exactly in its original position. Another consideration is the fact that your marks on the ground are disturbing the terrain in a very sensitive area — something you really don’t want to do.

I’ve seen reputable petanque sites that suggest that you take another boule and tap a few times — very gently — on the top of A, to make a slight depression under it. Then, when you replace it, it will fit naturally and exactly into that depression.

That’s messing with the terrain! Don’t do it!

As Richard Powell, Regional Umpire of the Southern Counties Petanque Association of the English Petanque Association, writes

You should NOT try to push the boule downwards to make a little “cup” in the ground to help with its later replacement, because the “cup” might prevent the moved-and­-replaced boule from moving if any subsequent boule were to disturb it, or may stop any other boule that is moving from going where it would otherwise have gone.

As a practical matter, I think concerns about the effects of the cup are more theoretical than real. Petanque is not played on billiard-table surfaces. The size of the cup is unlikely to be greater than the natural variation of the surface. And the cup is surely a smaller disturbance of the terrain than marks drawn in the dirt, the traditional and accepted method.

Still, this technique does disturb the surface of the terrain, and that’s a concern, at least on a theoretical level.

What can we do then?

Here’s a tip that was posted by Colin Stewart last year on the “rules of petanque” forum of petanque.org. It is such a neat idea that I can’t help re-posting it here.

A good method which doesn’t disturb the surface is to use an old shoe lace. Wind the lace around the base of the boule and pull both ends gently until it fits around the point where the ground and the boule meet — but don’t pull so tight as to move the boule, just enough to create a ring that fits closely around the base of the boule.

Lift the boule out carefully and then measure. Replace the boule into the ‘ring’ of shoelace and then carefully unwind the lace from around the boule. The removed boule should be precisely where you left it and no need to scratch marks into the terrain.

This sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll need to practice a few times before I get the knack of it. And I’ll need to add a shoelace to my boules bag.


Some handy French words

Last summer I had occasion to play with a new French friend. We usually played on natural terrains, and I found that I had to learn several words in order to be able to talk about our games.

The words weren’t specialized petanque terms. They were just ordinary French words that I needed to know in order to be able to talk about the conditions of the terrain.

Il y a une pente.” — “There is a slope.” There is a place on the terrain where the ground has a slope, which is why your boule didn’t roll straight.

Il y a des cailloux.” — “There are stones” (on the terrain). That’s why that boule took a weird bounce. It hit un caillou.

Le sol est meuble.” — “The ground is loose (or soft).” That’s why that boule didn’t roll as far as you expected it to. It got bogged down in that soft patch.

The origin of the word pétanque

pétanque (French) — feet planted (firmly on the ground)
pes_tanca_01

Nobody (well, almost nobody) really seems to know the origin of the word “pétanque” (French) or “petanca” (Spanish).

There are some things about the origin of the word that everyone agrees on. Specifically, that two Occitan words were translated or transliterated into French, and then collapsed into the single word “petanque”.

Occitan (pronounced something like oksitan) is the old pre-French dialect of Provençe and the south of France. Like French, Italian, and Spanish, Occitan is a “romance language” — a language descended from the language of the ancient Romans who occupied southern France and Spain for many centuries. Provençal is one of the six major dialects of Occitan. Occitan’s closest relative is Catalan, the language of Catalonia, the north-eastern Spanish province.

Occitan is not French, but the two languages are related through their Roman ancestry. In some cases, an Occitan word will resemble its French counterpart, and (thanks to the Norman Conquest) sometimes resemble a related English word. The Occitan word pèd (foot), for example, is related to the French word pied (foot) and such English words as “pedal” and “pedestrian”.


As I say, we know that two Occitan words were mashed together to create the word pétanque. Pretty much everybody agrees that the first word was “feet” — “pieds” in French — which (in Occitan) may have been

or
pèd or péd (foot?)
pès or pés (feet?)

There is a lot of disagreement about what the second word was, or might have been. Candidates include

tanca
tanco
tancats
tanqués

The real problem is what the second word meant. The candidates fall into two broad groups.

feet
planted …
fixed…
anchored, nailed, or staked …

      … to (or on) the ground.

feet
together
tied (together)

My own gut instinct is that the word should mean something like the English word “planted”, as in “feet planted firmly on the ground”.


Today I finally stumbled on the right words to plug into Google to get a trustworthy answer.

The answer comes, not surprisingly, from Philippe Boets of Petanque America. It was in a Petanque America blog entry from May 23, 2009. Here is that post, which I have edited very lightly. [Italicized text in square brackets] is mine.

Feet fixed or together?

In this month’s issue [not available online, unfortunately], France Today magazine lists a number of typical Provence terms, and of course “pétanque” is one of them. I’m so glad they use the term “feet fixed”, as opposed to “feet together”. Too many people think that your feet have to be glued together when you throw.

“tanca” is an old Provençal term meaning “blocked” or “fixed”. [“fixed” in the sense of “attached”, not in the sense of “repaired”]

In todays’ Catalan, closely related to Provençal, the verb “tancar” is still used in that sense, and more generally as a term for “to close”. Because when you “block” an entrance or “fix” a window, you prevent further use, and actually “close” it.

It evolved into French as “tanquer” (“-er” being the common ending for a verb), also as a reflexive verb “se tanquer” meaning “to get stuck”, hence “to be stuck”.

The idea of standing still (or “being stuck”) when throwing a boule was quite revolutionary in 1907. For centuries folks had been running, jumping, you name it, when throwing boules. Imagine telling a javelin thrower today that there’s no more run-up.

A lot of people still think that “tanca” means “together”. No one cares how close together your feet are, as long as they’re immobile, and — when it comes to formal competitions — fit in the regulation 50cm (20″) diameter circle.

By the way, in the South of France, “tanqué” (the past participle of “tanquer”) is also used to describe someone who is well built, as a compliment: “C’est une femme bien tanquée!”


That settles the matter for me.

  • “Petanque” does NOT mean “feet together”.
  • It probably comes from the Occitan “pés tanca”, meaning “feet fixed (attached, anchored) (to the ground)”.
  • Or my personal favorite formulation — “feet planted (firmly on the ground)”.

pes_tanca_02

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

Never pick up another player’s boules

Here’s a tip for new players.

I’ve noticed that at the end of a mène, new players will often pick up boules belonging to other players and hand the boules to their owners. New players do this out of friendliness and the desire to be helpful.

Here’s the tip — Don’t do it. Never pick up another player’s boules.
picking_up_boules
The other players do realize that you’re trying to be helpful. But the truth is, you’re not actually helping. For a brief moment, you’re causing other players (who are looking at the ground, trying to find their boules) not to be able to find their boules. And at the same time you’re neglecting your responsibility to pick up your own boules as quickly as possible.

What you should do is pick up your own boules as quickly as possible. If you’re in a hurry, don’t even take the time to pick them all up — just kick them out-of-bounds, where you can pick them up later.

There is a second reason why “Never pick up another player’s boules” is a good personal rule. It sometimes happens that a player (you, perhaps) mistakenly thinks that the mène is over and starts to pick up boules. It’s an honest mistake, but it is a mistake, and it causes problems. The problems are pretty minimal if you pick up one of your own (or your own team’s) boules. According to Article 26 the boule you’ve picked up is dead. You remove it from the terrain and play continues.

But if you pick up one of the opposing team’s boules, then you really have problems. You may not be able to put the boule back in its original location. Article 26 is so poorly written that it can be interpreted as saying that the boule that you picked up — the OTHER team’s boule — is dead. Which is clearly unfair. So… there may very well be confusion and debate about how to proceed.

So here’s some friendly advice. At the end of the mène, when it comes time to pick up boules, wait a bit. According to the rules, you should not begin picking up boules until the score has been decided. In friendly games people often immediately start to pick up boules that clearly have no chance of counting toward the score. But… wait a bit. Wait until you’re absolutely sure that all boules really have been thrown. Wait until you’re sure the score has been decided. As a new player, wait until you see more experienced players picking up their boules, before you start to pick up your own. And of course Never pick up another player’s boules.

Sometimes during pickup you will see a boule that is way off in left field somewhere. It’s OK to gently kick it toward where the other boules are clustered around the jack. That will make it easier for its owner to find it and retrieve it. But that’s about the most that you want to do with another player’s boule.

Nicknames

According to legend, Jules le Noir — who was the inspiration for the invention of petanque — was actually named Jules Hugues. “le Noir” was a nickname.

As Jon Bryant pointed out in an article called “Game of Life” (in France Magazine, original date unknown but probably July 2010) —

Nicknames used to be a big thing in boules. In most provençal villages, there would be a man known as Le Pendule (presumably for his regular arm swing) or Le Vieux (presumably as he’s been playing longer than anyone can remember) who was undefeated for over a decade and is still talked about by the locals.

Armand Vidal, who has written a dictionary of boule terms, laments the loss of the nickname. He writes that in the final of the Provençal tournament in 1909, all six men carried an official nickname — there was Le Blond, Petit Paul, Parpelet, Le Mecanicien. By 1931, only three of the six finalists had a recognizable sobriquet, and by 1976 only one finalist — so-called Bambi — was so distinguished.

Is the game getting more serious? Is too much money involved? Has the pace of life changed so much that there’s no impetus to label someone as anything but their own surname?

DictionnaireDeJeuDeBoules_ArmandVidalVidal’s book is Dictionnaire du jeu de boules: Tel qu’on le parle en Provence (Jeanne Laffitte, 1999) — toutes les expressions provençales du jeu de boules (boule provençale et pétanque), avec un index.


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