The Aiding & Abetting Amateur: Where did the word ‘martingale’ come from?

Our favorite hunter/jumper princess, The Aiding & Abetting Amateur, is back with a fun etymology of a funny word.

From The Aiding & Abetting Amateur:

The Aiding Amateur has set out to discover the origin of some not so obvious barn-lingo. The first stop on this grand quest is to explore the small leather strap that keeps your (and my) horses from going around the ring like inverted giraffes. Whether of the standing or running variety, we know that this piece of tack is a must have in the barn. You’ve probably said the word a ba-jillion times, and never stopped to consider where it got its goofy name, but we’re here to explain!

For you entertainment, we have asked non-horsey friends to define this term. Their responses are full of creativity and hilarity:

  • martingale: n. a small bird with a high-pitched, song-like chirp.

  • Martingale: N. (pronounced: Martin Ale) A fine international (or rather, intergalactic) pale ale brewed in Martin breweries from the finest hops known to man or Martian.

  • martingale: n. a strong gusting wind accompanied by summer storms, known to take sea-voyagers off route.

Although we appreciate their efforts, our friends aren’t on the right track. While the etymological history of the word martingale is not entirely clear or obvious, there are some pretty good attempts to explain where this word came from, and how it got into our barns.

This word is used in several other circles. Gamblers have been known to use this term when describing a certain type of game theory in which the gambler would double his bet after every loss. Sounds like a good way to blow a lot of cash in Vegas, huh? Another context in which this word has been used historically is in probability theory. Essentially, this word has been used to describe a process in that the knowledge of past events will in no way indicate the potential happenings of future events.

There is also a distinct possibility that this word was created to describe the residents of the Martigues (France) region, who were known for their banter and festivals. Another interesting related meaning comes from the term “martingale pants” which were pants with drop seats to make do your duty as a soldier easier, as Rebalais stated, “A drawbridge for the ass that makes excretion easier.” … Interesting.

And still more historical meanings for this word…

Martingale was historically used in France as a term for prostitution or women of low virtue. And finally, to describe a folk-dance, danced by shipmen and sailors in which one slaps the heel against the wooden boards of a ship to produce a loud tapping sound.

It’s hard to draw an etymology bridge for this word from origin to modern usage. It is fairly certain that the first time this word showed up in a dictionary accompanied by a definition explaining horse tack was as early as the Assyrian Empire. Needless to say, it’s been around for a minute. And as long as there are high-headed ponies and polo players, it’ll be around for a while longer.


[Photos: Wikimedia Commons]

Read more at The Aiding & Abetting Amateur.


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