Dalhousie Law Journal

Article Title

Origin of Jeofail


M. P. Furmston


Origin, jeofail, jeu-faille, game-fail, presumably, stalemate


In their interesting note on the origin of "Jeofail",' Doctors Baker and Arnold suggest that the word is derived from jeu-faille (= game-fail) and say that "A 'game-fail' in chess was presumably a stalemate; neither party could win, so the game failed or ended. "2 Since it has long been known that "jeopardy" has a chess origin3 (either from the old French "jeu parti" or the Latin "jocus partitus" = game in the balance and hence an uncertain chance) this explanation has an obvious attraction. Indeed in view of the alphabetical work habits of-lexicographers it is surprising that the suggestion has not been made before. (The two words are consecutive in the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology). 4 Nevertheless the argument based on the analogy with chess is not free from difficulties. The definition of stalemate is inelegant for the modern version of the game but much more important it is very far from clear that in 1378 the result of a stalemate was that the game was drawn.