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Round Robin

Posted by ESC on September 29, 2002

In Reply to: Round Robin posted by R. Berg on September 29, 2002

: : Can anyone tell me where the term 'round robin' comes from ?

: The Oxford English Dictionary gives, first, quotations illustrating an obsolete sense without defining that sense:
: 1546 COVERDALE . . . Certayne fonde talkers . . . applye to this mooste holye sacramente, names of despitte and reproche, as to call it Jake in the boxe, and round roben, and such other not onely fond but also blasphemouse names.
: 1555 RIDLEY . . . There were at Paules . . . fixed railing bils aginst the Sacrament, terming it Jack of ye boxe, the sacrament of the halter, round Robin, with lyke unseemly termes.

: I don't know what sacrament these authors were talking about. Then the OED has a second obsolete sense, defined as "Applied to persons." A representative quotation:
: 1671 HACKET These Wat Tylers and Round-Robins being driven or persuaded out of Whitehall.

: Third sense: defined as "a document (esp. one embodying a complaint, remonstrance, or request) having the names of the subscribers arranged in a circle so as to disguise the order in which they have signed. Originally used by sailors, and frequently referred to as a nautical term."
: 1731 GENTL. MAG. . . . The Method used by Sailors when they mutiny, by signing their names in an orbicular manner, which they call a round Robin.
: [etc.]

ROUND ROBIN - "The round robin was originally a petition, its signatures arranged in a circular form to disguise the order of signing. Most probably it takes its name from the 'ruban rond,' 'round ribbon,' in 17th-century France, where government officials devised a method of signing their petitions of grievances on ribbons that were attached to the documents in a circular form. In that way no signer could be accused of signing the document first and risk having his head chopped off for instigating trouble. 'Ruban rond' later became 'round robin' in English and the custom continued in the British navy, where petitions of grievances were signed as if the signatures were spokes of a wheel radiating from its hub. Today 'round robin' usually means a sports tournament where all of the contestants play each other at least once and losing a match doesn't result in immediate elimination." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

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