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Why Is A Shuttlecock Called A Shuttlecock?

Have you ever found yourself pondering the peculiar name of a badminton essential, the shuttlecock? Why is a shuttlecock called a shuttlecock? While it gracefully sails through the air during intense matches and sparks our competitive spirits, its name seems to be shrouded in mystery. Join us on an intriguing journey as we unravel the origins and evolution behind this enigmatic word. Get ready to discover why a seemingly ordinary object like a shuttlecock bears such an extraordinary moniker!

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The Shuttlecock
The Shuttlecock

Introduction: Why is a shuttlecock called a shuttlecock?

Shuttlecocks, also known as birdies, are an essential piece of equipment in the game of badminton. They are small, lightweight projectiles that players hit back and forth using their racquets. While many people may be familiar with the object itself, not everyone knows why it is called a shuttlecock.

The name “shuttlecock” has an interesting history behind it. It comes from two separate words – “shuttle” and “cock.” The word “shuttle” refers to a device used to carry yarn while weaving fabric on a loom. On the other hand, the word “cock” means a rooster or male chicken.

So how did these two words come together to form the name of this sports equipment? The answer lies in its appearance and function.

If you look at a shuttlecock closely, you will notice that it has a round base made up of sixteen overlapping feathers attached to a cork head. This design allows for aerodynamic stability and smooth flight through the air when struck by a racquet. However, if you were to turn it upside down and see its resemblance with a rooster’s tail feathers, you would understand where the term "cock" comes from.

Moreover, just like how weavers would use shuttles to weave yarn back and forth on their looms quickly, badminton players use shuttlecocks to move swiftly across the net during a game. This similarity in function led to the use of the word “shuttle” in its name.

The history of shuttlecocks and how they were originally named

The history of the shuttlecock dates back to ancient China, where it was first conceptualized as a form of entertainment during the Tang Dynasty. Originally known as "jianzi," this early version consisted of feathers or silk attached to a base made from either metal or wood. The shuttlecock quickly gained popularity among nobles and commoners alike, becoming an integral part of festivals and celebrations in Chinese culture.


Over time, its design evolved, with craftsmen experimenting with various materials such as duck feathers and goose quills for better aerodynamics. As the game spread across Asia, different countries developed their own variations – be it Japan's "hanetsuki" or India's "poona."

However, the origins of the name "shuttlecock" can be traced back to medieval Europe.

During this time period, a game called "battledore and shuttlecock" was popular among children and adults alike. This game involved using two wooden paddles, known as battledores, to hit a feathered object back and forth between players. The object was initially referred to as a "shuttle," derived from the Old English word "sceotan," meaning to shoot or propel.

Battledore & Shuttlecock
Battledore & Shuttlecock. Credit The Online Guide To Traditional Games

Over time, this feathered object began to take on different shapes and materials. Some versions were made with feathers attached to cork or rubber bases, while others were made entirely out of feathers tied together at the base. Despite these variations, the name "shuttle" remained consistent.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the word "cock" was added to refer specifically to these feathered projectiles used in badminton. This is believed to have originated from an old term for birds or fowl commonly found in rural areas during that time period.

old vs new shuttlecock
Old Vs New. Credit National Badminton Museum

As badminton gained popularity around the world, so did the use of shuttlecocks. With its inclusion in various competitions and tournaments, there was a need for standardization and regulation of equipment used in the sport.

Today, shuttlecocks are still referred to by their traditional name, despite advancements in technology and changes in their design. They remain an essential part of the game of badminton and continue to be enjoyed by players of all ages around the world.

The symbolism and significance behind the name

The name "shuttlecock" may seem like a strange and random choice for the small, feathered object used in the sport of badminton. However, there is actually a rich history and symbolism behind this seemingly simple name.

Firstly, let's break down the name itself. The word "shuttle" refers to a tool used in weaving to pass thread back and forth between parallel threads, creating a tightly woven fabric. This action of back and forth movement is also seen in the game of badminton, where players hit the shuttlecock back and forth across the net.

The second part of the name, "cock," refers to a male bird such as a rooster or chicken. This directly relates to the original material used to make shuttlecocks - feathers from birds.

But why was this specific term chosen instead of something more straightforward like "birdie"? To understand this, we must delve into ancient Chinese culture where badminton originated.

In traditional Chinese belief systems, birds were often considered sacred creatures with divine qualities. They were believed to have connections to heavenly beings and were seen as symbols of good fortune, prosperity, and harmony. The use of feathers from birds in sports was not uncommon during that time period as it was believed that they would bring luck to players.

Furthermore, badminton itself has roots in an ancient game called "Ti Jian Zi," which translates to shuttlecock kicking. In this game dating back over 2000 years ago in China, players would use their feet to keep a shuttlecock in the air, similar to how we use rackets in modern badminton. The use of the term "shuttlecock" may have carried over from this ancient game and become synonymous with the sport of badminton.


The name also holds significance in terms of balance and harmony. The back-and-forth movement of the shuttlecock represents the yin and yang symbol, which is associated with balance and harmony in Chinese philosophy. This connection further emphasizes the cultural origins of badminton and its ties to Chinese tradition.

Fun facts and trivia about shuttlecocks and their name

1. The word "shuttlecock" was first used in England during the 16th century, but its origin can be traced back to ancient China.

2. In Chinese, the shuttlecock is known as a "jianzi", which means "little arrow". This is because it resembles a small arrow with feathers attached to one end.

3. In Japan, the shuttlecock is called a "hanetsuki", which translates to "flower battle". This name comes from a traditional Japanese game where players hit feathered balls back and forth without letting them touch the ground.

4. The modern-day shuttlecock used in badminton is made up of 16 goose feathers attached to a cork base with leather covering.

5. The average lifespan of a shuttlecock used in professional badminton games is only around five minutes before it needs to be replaced due to wear and tear from high-speed hits.

6. Shuttlecocks were originally made using feathers from geese or ducks; however, since these birds are now protected species, synthetic materials such as nylon are commonly used instead.

7. The speed of a shuttlecock can reach up to 200 miles per hour when hit by professional players, making it one of the fastest moving objects in sports.

Conclusion: Why we may never know the true reason?

After exploring various theories and historical accounts, it is clear that the true reason behind why a shuttlecock is called a shuttlecock remains a mystery. While there are plenty of interesting and plausible explanations, none have been confirmed as the definitive origin of the name.

One possible reason for this lack of concrete information is the fact that badminton and its accompanying equipment, including the shuttlecock, originated in different parts of Asia. The sport itself has roots in ancient civilizations such as China, India, and Greece. As a result, it is difficult to pinpoint one specific culture or language that may have coined the term "shuttlecock."

Another factor contributing to the ambiguity surrounding the name could be the evolution and evolution of language over time. As languages develop and change, words can take on new meanings or lose their original significance.

This could be why some earlier written records mention "shuttlecocks" as objects used for playing games other than badminton.

Furthermore, there are cultural nuances to consider when discussing language origins. For example, some theories suggest that "shuttlecock" may have been derived from Chinese characters meaning "bird with feathers," while others propose connections to Sanskrit words related to flying objects or Hindu deities.

It is also worth noting that badminton was not always known by this name; it was referred to by various names such as battledore and shuttlecock before settling on just "badminton" in England in the mid-19th century. This adds another layer of complexity to the origins of the term "shuttlecock."

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