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Who will name the Game?
by Bob Alman
posted October 2, 2000
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Bulletin Board Online Forum on "Naming the Game"

Once in a while, a warning must be issued up front: Don't read this essay unless you are willing to be confounded by the apparently senseless debates that rise up like swamp fog up to obscure simple issues. Here is the background. Since 1986, when the first national tournaments were played in America under the rules codified by English Croquet Association, that set of rules (or "laws" as they are called on the other side of the Atlantic) has been known here as "International Rules" to distinguish the game from the one codified by governing body on the American side of the Atlantic - the United States Croquet Association. Now, 15 years later, in the face of a revolt of considerable proportions by apparently well-meaning players to call the game "by its real name," confusion reigns once again. My position is rooted in what I understand to be my obligations as an editor. Editors and organizers promoting the sport want to use language that is simple and clear - not willfully misleading and ambiguous. You are invited and encouraged to post your enlightened proposals on the BULLETIN BOARD, where a conversation has been started called "Naming the Game.
The American Croquet Hall of Fame has ample space not just for great players but for all Americans who have played a significant role in the sport. At the intersection of the galleries for Early Organizers and Lovable Curmudgeons stands the proud figure of Captain Forrest Tucker. Since the early 70's and until he died recently at the age of 102, Captain Tucker reigned supreme over his one-lawn croquet kingdom at Birnam Wood, near Santa Barbara. He played only "Association Croquet" on his court, lined with Italian marble. He insisted with some passion that only "the proper game" be played. "We'll have none of that damn dead-ball business here," he decreed. He had played a part in teaching the Arizona guys the game even before the U.S. Croquet Association was formed. In those days, the term "Association Croquet" was not only accurate - its meaning was clear: it was the game codified by "the" association. The one in England. The one that wrote the rules and published them under the title "The Laws of Association Croquet."

When the U.S. Croquet Association was formed in 1977, its founder Jack Osborn negotiated a compromise set of rules acceptable to the five founding clubs and incorporating many elements of the game as played at a handful of "serious" clubs before the formation of the American national association. The game was radically different from the version which had been evolving in England for more than a century under the auspices of England's national association.

The new U.S.C.A. game featured carry-over deadness and strict rotation of the four balls. The very existence of the game seemed to offend Captain Tucker. He hated it with an all-consuming passion. He went out of his way to show his contempt by creating the nickname, "the dead game" - or even more tellingly, "the Obsorn dead game." More generally, the game was and is called today American rules croquet, to distinguish it from the game codified by the English Croquet Association.

Where is "the association":
Hurlingham or Palm Beach?

Perhaps Captain Tucker's passion was justified in a way, since Osborn actually did discourage the widespread play of the English game. Not until Stan Patmor of Arizona forced the issue by forming the rival American Croquet Association in 1986 did Osborn permit the sanctioning of USCA tournaments playing the English version of the game. (Patmor was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the same time as Tucker, in September of 1995 at Sherwood Country Club in Southern California, along with Archie Burchfield and Ellery McClatchy.)

The game Caption Tucker viewed with contempt is the one usually played by USCA members at USCA clubs in America. We customarily call it "USCA Croquet" or "American Rules Croquet" to distinguish it from backyard croquet.

The term "Association Croquet" attained currency in England at a time when that name accurately and clearly distinguished it from "garden croquet" (the equivalent of America's "backyard croquet.") There was no need to say "English Croquet Association Croquet;" because the English association set the rules - excuse me, "the laws" - and published them for the entire world. The title of their laws (or rules as we know them in the American language) was "The Laws of Association Croquet and the Regulations for Tournaments." I can find no reference to the word "rule" in the entire current volume.

As editor of Croquet World Online Magazine, I feel a responsibility to translate various forms of English into "North Atlantic English" - i.e., a compromise between British English and American English. The differences are striking in many instances. When there is no term commonly understood in both languages, I try to invent or adapt one that will serve. (I even use Commonwealth spellings when quoting English writers. When they write articles, I don't changes the zees to esses. What results is something that would never pass muster in any academic course on writing or language. The intention is to communicate clearly and as broadly as possible - to meet on common ground in the middle of the North Atlantic.

The prominence of the Websites give me frequent opportunity provide information and sources for the national press. I aim for accuracy and clarity in talking to these writers and editors, but sometimes those two standards do not mesh well. I would not use the term "Association Croquet," because they would logically assume that this term describes the form of the game promoted by our own national association. If I have to speak of American Rules and International Rules, I say that International Rules Croquet is the dominant form of the game played throughout the world except in America, and the one usually played in international competitions.

"America's fastest-growing sport"

I remember clearly the first time I confronted these considerations. The year was 1986 - a watershed year in American croquet. The creation of the American Croquet Association to promote the play of the English Association game coincided with the birth of Croquet Magazine, published by Hans Peterson and co-edited by - you guessed it - Bob Alman and Mike Orgill. The "split" in American croquet was the story of the year, maybe even the story of the decade. It seemed like a very big deal because we all believed Jack Osborn's press agentry in his declaration that croquet was "America's fastest growing sport."

The editors and publisher of Croquet Magazine had an editorial meeting in Peterson's Berkeley apartment to create a Glossary of Terms. I recall that it was a long meeting, with much deliberation. But we came to a good consensus, and the first two entries in the Glossary read would read this way:

"AMERICAN GAME, AMERICAN RULES: The game and the rules sanctioned by the USCA, incorporating carry-over deadness and sequenced play.

"INTERNATIONAL GAME, INTERNATIONAL RULES: The game and rules usually played in the Commonwealth countries, often called 'Association Croquet.'"

These were the terms we used in our long interviews with the protagonists, Stan Patmor and Jack Osborn. Both of them agreed with our suggestion of calling the English Croquet Association rules "International rules" in our printed references, to avoid the necessity of weighing down the interviews with numerous parenthetical explanations.

I do not remember whether and to what extent the term "International rules" was used before that editorial meeting. But I have spot-checked the American croquet periodicals of the time, and I have found that before 1986, Jack Osborn and other organizers commonly referred to "English rules" or "English Association rules." By the time we published our interviews as the cover article of the September 1986 issue, the term "International rules" was being used in the United States Croquet Association publications as well as our own.

I telephoned Mike Orgill, who confirmed my recollections. Mike recalls that we rejected the term "English rules" because it was too limiting and accurately descriptive. The term "International Rules" seems even more apt today than it did in 1986, because today, changes are made by an international body (representatives of the MacRobertson nations) rather than the English Croquet Association alone.

It seems a simple matter, doesn't it?

Nevertheless, although every American editor I have spoken to about this endorses the "International rules" tag, there is persistent objection from many top-ranked players, who insist that these rules should always and everywhere be called by their proper name: "Association Laws." Croquet Canada has even passed a resolution to that effect. When Croquet Canada publishes schedules of its events, only the croquet elect will know what "Association Croquet" really means.

I am not out to debunk traditional values. My purpose is clear communication in the service of promoting a great and undervalued sport not just to members of the various associations, but to the broader public. I am entirely willing to reconsider the naming of all these games.

As to the matter of "rules" versus "laws," it's fairly clear that to the American ear, "rules" determine the governance of a game and "laws" the policing of civil society. My correspondents tell me that these terms are fairly interchangeable in England. (And in fact, the earliest published book on croquet in England referred to croquet rules, not laws - Thompson's "The Rules of the Game of Croquet" from 1863, for example, as shown in D.M.C. Prichard's book; and as late as 1897, there was Arthur Lillie's "Croquet, its History, Rules and Secrets.")

On "rules" versus "laws" in common currency, Richard Hilditch offers the following survey from his Web search:

  • golf rules
  • football (soccer) laws
  • tennis rules
  • baseball (at least MLB) Rules
    baseball/mlbcom/headquarters/rulesfront .htm
  • basketball rules
  • American football rules
  • cricket laws
  • squash rules
  • ice hockey rules
  • petanque rules

Rules are clearly the preferred term, everywhere.

But let's get to the point: The most important consideration in naming these games is clarity - a simple way to distinguish between them clearly in writing and speaking. What would work in all cases, on every continent? What would satisfy everyone? What would communicate the distinctions we would like to get across to non croquet players or novices clearly and simply?

No one objects to "American Rules," or U.S.C.A. Rules," so we have a good beginning.

How about a return to the pre-1986 "English Rules" or "English Association Rules"? This does not reflect reality nearly as accurately as "International rules," but it does make the essential distinction. Is that what we want to do?

Would you insist on using the alien term "laws" in America? I don't like it much for American consumption, but if you insist and if everyone agrees, I could be persuaded to write about the "English laws of croquet" in the same sentence as "the American rules of croquet."

What I could not be persuaded to do is to burden the writers and editors from the mainstream press who call me to get information about the sport with a convoluted explanation about "Association Croquet" when the question of rules arises. I don't want to confuse and discourage them by explaining that "Association Croquet" has nothing to do with our national association. It's a waste of time, and I think it makes us look like dolts.

I frankly do not understand the passion with which some players in America insist that the game played under English laws be called "by their proper name." Yes, England is the dominant country in the sport and has been for some time. But must respect for Mother England give rise to a mindless Anglophilia which results in perpetual confusion?

This issue reflects the inevitable conflict between the separate agendas of
the of the organizers and the top players.

Perhaps this issue is merely a reflection of a larger and perennial one in all sports, including croquet: the inevitable conflict between the separate agendas of the organizers and promoters of the sport who wish to spread its popularity and acceptance versus the most competitive players, who believe their objectives should rule the sport.

No one should take offense when an editor with a predominantly American readership calls it "International Rules." It should not be taken personally. Yes, it's a kind of nickname - but it's not said in a mean spirit, like a bully in the schoolyard calling you "four-eyes" or "fatso."

As adults, can we not respect our separate agendas as organizers and players, wherever we are in the world, whether we play croquet by the rules of the U.S. Croquet Association or the laws of the English Croquet Association?

If the nomenclature proposed by Croquet Magazine fifteen years ago is no longer acceptable, perhaps we should ask the World Croquet Federation to confer and proclaim a universal standard.

Post your comments on Croquet World's BULLETIN BOARD in the conversation indexed "Naming the Game." The Americas section.

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