Sunday, January 7, 2018

Boxes and Boxing

Is there any connection between the word for a usually square or rectangular container and the name of the contact sport called “the sweet science”? 

The pugilistic sense of box may be related to the botanical one and therefore to the general sense of an object in which something is situated or enclosed, but no direct relationship has been traced. However, this post explains the etymological origin of the word in both senses and provides some definitions and usage examples.

Box is ultimately from the word pyxos, the Greek name of the box tree, by way of the Latin term buxis. The wood of the box tree, also called boxwood, is used for making things—including, naturally, boxes. (The tree itself is used for hedges and topiary.) Now, however, a box can be made of virtually any material, and though most boxes consist of square or rectangular faces, they come in many shapes.

By extension, the word has come to refer to seating compartments for spectators at a sports or performing-arts event, receptacles for mail (though mailbox may refer to both physical and electronic correspondence, and “letter box” is used in British English), a manually drawn or electronically produced square or rectangular space, or the defined space in which a batter stands while at bat during a game of baseball.
(There is also a catcher’s box adjacent to the batter’s box, and the pitcher’s mound, from its origin as a boxed area, is still sometimes referred to as “the box.”)

Box is also a verb meaning “place in a box,” or "boxed in" * the act of enclosing something in a box is boxing, and boxy is an adjective meaning “resembling a box.” In addition, many terms incorporate box as the first or second element in an open or closed compound (for example, “box office” and hatbox). 

Boxing Day, a holiday in the United Kingdom and various countries (including Canada) that were part of the British Empire, is said to stem from the tradition of giving boxes containing money or presents to servants and tradespeople on the day after Christmas (or near the holiday). But in the United States, the holiday is not observed and is little known; boxing is in American English solely a reference to the sport in which fists are used to strike or defend oneself from an opponent. The term derives from the verb box, which means “beat, strike, or thrash with one’s hands or fists.” Box itself can be a noun in this sense, though it is rarely used as such.

*Added by the author

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