The Playoffs; or, A Brief Etymology Lesson


Few words bring greater joy to some than that one little mashup—one that embodies all natures of competitiveness and, essentially, human spirit. And what a stupid word it is, really. Playoff. Like Horatio. What a stupid name. A couple words and syllables mashed together into something we can immediately identify—and then use to go on errant, early-morning and long-winded locutions about. Speaking of Shakespeare and long-winded locutions . . .


As a noun, it was first used in England in the late 19th century to describe a tiebreaker/rematch game. Kind of as we know it, today, only singular. It wasn’t used to describe a series of games until the 1930s here in the good ol’ U.S.A. Now then (my favorite oxymoron, speaking of language), the 19th century was an awesome time for language—it was a time during which people loved experimenting with and combining words to form other complex, less useful words, particularly Latin-esque words. My favorite, for example: absquatulate, meaning to leave quickly or die.

What does that have to do with the word playoff, then? and most importantly Shakespeare? Well, the word playoff comes from Shakespeare himself, and, even more relevant to our league—it was used colloquially in terms of drinking. The expression to play it off or to play off, used in Henry IV, meant “to finish what you started,” specifically to drain or finish an alcoholic drink.

So, there you have it. Shakespeare basically invented the playoffs and we’re all champions every weekend—on and off the field.