Many chess enthusiasts such as myself are aware that the game originated from ancient India. However, most don't know what the word comes from there too. Back in the 500s, the game chess originated, with only four pieces. Thus the Sanskrit word for chess was chaturanga, or "four arms". This had nothing to do with additional bodily appendages; the old Indians apparently just liked making things sound spiritual that way. As the word passed from India to Persia, it became chatrang, and in Arabic it later became shaterej, since the Arabs had no "ch-" or "-ng" sounds. When the game finally reached European speakers, they called it several things, including the Persian word for "king", shah, which they figured was basically short for shatarej. Eventually, the Romans got wind of more ways to prove themselves intellectually superior, and thus came the Latin-ized word scacchi. This went into French as eschec (they really butchered that one) and came out as esches (not so much). Around the 1200s, this came to England, to be known as chess for the rest of time.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.