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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Tennis balls used as a measure, 1580


A playster for an ague 

Take as much stone pitch to the value of a Tennis bal, and a spoonefull of Tarre, and a penniworth of Treacle and Rosen, to the value of a Tennis ball, and a spoonefull of Hony, boyle it over the fier in a little kettle, and stirre it all togeather till it be well melted, then take a new sheapes skinne, and make holes in it with a bodkin, and spreade the medicine on the fleshye side of the skinne, and lay it to the ache as whot as you may.

An Hospitall for the Diseased, by T C, London 1580

Rosen would be resin, and 'whot' is 'hot'. 'Value' here is presumably used to mean 'size' or 'weight', since the monetary value of what is being measured is explicit - ' a penniworth of treacle and rosen'. This is the earliest example I have come across of an item of specifically sports equipment being used as a non-metaphorical referent outside the field of sport - it's not uncommon to see distances measured by lances or arrows, which would have been used as sporting items, but they are primarily weapons. There's an assumption too in the reference that people dispensing medicine would have a good idea of the size and weight of a tennis ball.

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