Terminology – faire un biberon

In English we’d say that the boule is kissing the jack. What would a French petanque player say?

The French expression is faire un biberon (to make a baby-bottle) or faire un têtard (to make a tadpole). The French seems to suggest that the boule isn’t merely close to the jack, or touching it. The boule is stuck to the jack. Like a baby sucking on a baby-bottle?

Anyway, if you have a question about French petanque terminology, here is one online resource.

Petanque terminology

Terminology – Origin of the words “carreau” & “tir”

In petanque, the word carreau refers to the perfect shot, when the thrown boule makes a direct hit on the target boule, knocking the target boule away and exactly taking its place.

Outside of petanque, in everyday French, un carreau means “a square”. It can also be used to refer to square things such as window panes and floor tiles. It can also by extension be used to refer to tiled floors and to floors in general. Laisser quelqu’un sur le carreau is to lay somebody out on the floor, to deck him.

AS_de_carreau_bouleCarreau can also refer to the diamonds in a deck of cards. Hence the name of the famous bronze boule from La Boule Intégrale, the AC (as de carreau, ace of diamonds).

Hence also the name of one of the designs in Obut’s old Tatou line of leisure boules— the “Card Carreau”.

What’s the connection between a floor tile and a petanque carreau ? You can find the answer in the collection of Petanque Terminology assembled by Jeff Widen.

The origin of the term is thought to have come from the fighting expression “rester carreau” – “to remain on the spot, to be laid out cold.” “Le carreau” means the “floor” (usually only applied to one that is either tiled or paved).

So when you rester carreau (“stay on the floor”) you drop to the floor like a rock and you stay there. Which is what a thrown petanque boule does when it makes a carreau.

Terminology – Origin of the words “jack”, “cochonnet”, “bouchon”

In English we usually refer to the petanque target ball as “the jack”, although you may occasionally hear it called “the pig” or “the cosh”. Similarly, in French there are several different ways to refer to the jack. The FIPJP rules call it le but (“the target” or “the goal”). Players in Paris may call it le cochonnet (“the piglet”). Players in the Midi call it garri, or le petit or le pitionnet (the little one). Players in Provençe call it le bouchon, and so do most TV comentators. The term bouchon is the diminutive form of the Provençal word bocha or bocho— “ball”— so in Provençal a bouchon is a little ball. Note that Provençal and French are not the same language. It is purely coincidental that the French word bouchon means “stopper” (as in a bottle stopper: bouchon de bouteille) or a traffic jam (bouchon de circulation, bouchon sur la route).

The English word “jack” can be traced back to the Latin Jacobus, “little Jacob”. In Old French Jacobus evolved into Jacques, with connotations of a male peasant or servant. In Middle English, jacques became jack and had a variety of shades of meaning implying maleness (a man or a male animal, like a jack ass [a female ass is a “jenny”]) and relative inferiority or smallness. So in English lawn bowls, the little target ball was the “jack-bowl” or simply the “jack”. William Shakespeare was a bowls player and a member of the Falcon Bowling Club in Pairswick.  Perhaps the first written use in English of the word “jack” to refer to the little wooden target ball is in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline (circa 1610), when a character named Cloten laments, “Was there ever man had such luck! When I kissed the jack, upon an up-cast to be hit away.”

In Spanish, as in other languages, the word for the jack is simply “the little ball”. The balls are las bolas and the little ball is la bolita (female) or el boliche (male).

For the origins of other petanque terms see our posts in the petanque terminology category.

Thanks to Jac Verheul and his Facebook group La Fabuleuse Histoire de la Pétanque for confirming the etymology of bouchon. For more information on the history of English lawn bowling, see John P. Monro, Bowls Encyclopaedia, and James Masters' history of bowls games.  But ignore Masters' incorrect etymology of "jack-rabbit". Jack rabbits are in fact quite large (for rabbits).  A jack rabbit is not a "small rabbit"; is a "jackass rabbit", a rabbit with big ears, like a jackass (a male ass). Other sources on the history of bowls can be found HERE and HERE.  The earliest surviving bowling green in England is Southampton Old Bowling Green, first used in 1299.


Terminology – Origin of the word pétanque

pétanque — feet planted (firmly on the ground)

Q: What is the origin of the word “pétanque” (French) or “petanca” (Spanish)?

A: Two Occitan words meaning “feet” and “planted” were transliterated into French and then collapsed into the single French word “pétanque”.

Occitan (pronounced oksitan) is the old pre-French language of Provençe. 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”, “pedestrian”, and “podiatrist”.

As I say, we know that two Occitan words were run together to create the word pétanque. The first word was pès or pés which meant “feet”. The second word was something like tanca, tanco, tancats, tanqués. Some sources say that this word meant “together” or “tied together” while others say that it meant “planted”, “fixed”, or “anchored”. A definitive answer can be found in a Petanque America blog entry by Philippe Boets. Here is my lightly edited copy of that post.

Feet fixed or together?

The May, 2009 issue of 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”. 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!”

So the bottom line is that the ultimate origin of the word “petanque” is the Occitan words “pés tanca” which mean, basically, “feet planted (firmly on the ground)”.


Terminology – Boule devant, boule d’argent

The classic petanque maxim is

Boule devant, boule d’argent.

The French word “argent” can mean either “silver” or “money”. I agree with Rayond Ager that in this context, it should be translated as “money”. So the maxim roughly translates as

A boule in front is a money ball.

The expression “money ball” isn’t, I think, just a metaphor for “good ball”. I suspect that it means literally that a boule in front is worth money.

In France, where petanque is of course much more popular than in the U.S., it is common to bet on petanque games and to play for money. (America a few years ago produced a movie called “The Hustler” about a pool hustler. In 2013 France produced “Les Invincibles” about a petanque hustler.) So I think that in the expression “Boule devant, boule d’argent”, “money ball” isn’t at all a metaphor. It is referring to real folding money in one’s pocket.

Finally, the old maxim has an unwritten flip-side.

If if you don’t have any boules in front — if you leave the front open and the opposing team still has boules to play — you are leaving your money on the table and asking your opponents to walk off with it.

If the front is open (le jeu est ouvert), you are inviting the opposing team simply to point right down the center and score as many points as they have boules.

So when you’re asking yourself the old question — To point? Or to shoot? — you should always ask yourself whether, if you shoot, sucessfully or not, you will be leaving the front open.

Terminology – revenge & beauty

In club play or friendly neighborhood play, teams often play several games in a row.

In English, we would say that after the “match” comes the “rematch” or “return match”. In petanque, in French, after the first game, the loser may propose la revanche.

If after two games the teams are tied (one game to one game), the teams may decide to play a third “playoff” game, la belle (the beauty).

I don’t know the origin of the term. In French belle means beautiful, but the expressions de belle and de plus belle mean (roughly) “even more” or “more than ever”.

In any event, the terminology lends itself to petanque humor — gently risqué double entendre.

— “You won (gagné) the first game (la première). We won the second (la seconde). Shall we do the beauty (la belle)?”
— “OK,” he says (throwing away his boule and heading toward his mixed-doubles partner, a very attractive young woman). “I’ll go first.”

Terminology – piste, lane, marked terrain

The term “piste”, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary is derived from the Old Italian word “pista”, from “pistare” — to trample down — and means a trampled-down trail or track, a beaten path. In snow skiing, a “piste” is a marked ski run or path down a mountain. By extension, a “piste” is any long, narrow strip of ground where some activity takes place. In fencing, the “piste” is the long, narrow area (the fencing mat) where a fencing match takes place.

In petanque, the term “piste” is used to refer to a marked patch of ground upon which one plays petanque. The term is extensively used in Australian versions of the rules, but other versions of the rules have used the term only rarely. Currently, the FIPJP rules use the term cadre (lane).

Words like “piste”, “lane”, and “cadre” refer to a set of visible, physical marks (or strings) on the ground. So a marked patch of ground can be a piste or lane even when no game is being played on it.

In contrast, the expression “marked terrain” is not a technical term, and it is used in a different way. The word “marked” is an ordinary adjective used to indicate that the patch of ground where a game is being played (the “terrain”) has boundaries that have been marked in some way. The terrain is délimité or tracé.

For more information, see our page on the petanque playing area.

When has the term “piste” appeared in national or international rules of petanque?