I wonder what is the etymology of the word sport.

Vasmer says that it is from disport "amusement", a contraction from Middle English disporten from Old French desporter "to take away", "to distract from the work".

But Starostin's Starling gives another etymology:

Eng. sport < Old Eng. spyrd, Goth. spɔrd-s "racing" < Proto-Germ. *spurd < PIE *sperdh- "run competition"

It gives as cognates Hittite ispart-, Avest. sparǝr- Old Indic -spūrdhán, spárdhate "competition"

So who is correct?

Note also that Vasmer connects Russian spor "dispute" to Avest pǝrǝt- and Old Indic pŕ̥tanā "struggle" so that the s- in PIE *sperdh- could be s-mobile.

Also take into account the root *per- meaning "first", "in front", "against" and Proto-Slavic perdъ "before, in front of" < PIE *per-dʰ-o.

  • 1
    And how does Starostin explain the semantic change OE spyrd 'stadium (a measure of distance); course' - ME spo(o)rte 'entertainment; pleasure? What about phonetic changes?
    – Alex B.
    Sep 20, 2012 at 21:16
  • @Alex B. What was in ME, spoorte or disporten, or both?
    – Anixx
    Sep 20, 2012 at 21:21
  • The OED gives Vasmer's etymology and doesn't discuss the alternative.
    – Cerberus
    Sep 20, 2012 at 22:06
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    sport < spyrd seems iffy. Were *spird, *sperd, and/or *spurd attested forms?
    Sep 20, 2012 at 23:18
  • 1
    @Anixx sport(e), sporten, sportyn, etc were first attested in the early/mid 1400's as nouns/verbs. Dysport, desport, disport, etc were first attested in the early 1300's as nouns. As verbs, I think they were first attested in Chaucer, i.e. late 1300's.
    Sep 20, 2012 at 23:40

1 Answer 1


The Oxford Dictionary of English (sport, disport), the Online Etymology Dictionary, and the Grimm Brothers Dictionary of German all give variants of

< Middle English disport(en) < Old French desporter < from des- 'away' + porter 'carry' (from Latin portare)


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