To bandy words
To argue persistently.
To 'bandy' is to 'exchange', to 'toss to and fro'. This is the source of the name of the game bandy - a ferocious ball game similar to ice hockey.
The word was in use in English by the 16th century and had counterparts in both French (bander) and Spanish (bandear), although which of these came first is uncertain. The sport originally associated with bandying wasn't bandy itself, but tennis. Raphael Holinshed's The firste volume of the chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, 1577, includes:
"Kingdoms... be no balles for me to bandie."
He was probably referring there to tennis 'balles' and tennis was mentioned explicitly in Randle Cotgrave's A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611. Cotgrave translated the French verb 'bander' as the English 'bandie' and gave an example of its use as "to bandie at Tennis". The 16th century was well before the development of lawn tennis and the game being referred to was what we now call real tennis (or in some countries court tennis) - which may be a corruption of royal tennis. This was an indoor game in which the walls form part of the court. The best known court, which is still in use, was built at Hampton Court Palace by Henry VIII in 1530.
A 'bandy' was a particular sort of tennis stroke. Players would shout 'A Bandy, Sir', when returning the ball. A 'bandy' must have been different in some way from other strokes - players would presumably have soon got tired of shouting the warning every time the ball was played. It is known that a 'check' was a return in which the ball didn't strike the walls, that is, the only form of stroke allowed in modern-day tennis. It is possible that a 'bandy' was a 'check' that was returned - that's speculation though, we just don't know.
Whatever the precise meaning in real tennis, the word 'bandy' was taken up to mean 'to and fro' and soon became used in other expressions; for example, Shakespeare used it in King Lear, 1605:
"Do you bandy lookes with me, you Rascall?"
Samuel Johnson used it in 1767, as reported by Boswell in a work published posthumously, in 1831:
"It was not for me to bandy civilities with my sovereign."
There are various other records of people 'bandying taunts' and 'bandying arguments' during the 16th and 17th centuries. The first example that I can find of 'bandy words' is in The Fair Maid of the Inn, by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, circa 1625, in which a character refuses to be drawn into an argument concerning a promise of marriage:
"I'll not bandy Words, but thus dissolve the contract."
See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.