An old joke

From Gregory Ward, at the end of a long chain of fowardings, this jape:

A little known fact…

The first testicular guard (“box”) was used in cricket in 1874

And the first helmet was used in 1974.

So, it took 100 years for men to realize that their brains were also worth protecting…

The text (just as it appears here) has been distributed all over the place on the net, many times. Here, someone has added visuals. Turns out it’s an old joke.

Some variants:

The first testicular guard, the “Cup”, was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.  — an email forward from my grandmother (link)

The first testicular guard (cup) was used in baseball in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1934. It took 60 years for men to realize the brain is also important. (link)

When was testicular guard first used?

A popular joke says that it was first used in hockey in 1874. However, it was only invented for cyclists in the 1870’s, but mass produced in the last years of the century. (link)

The first “Testicular Guard” was used in Football in 1874. The first helmet was used in 1974.
 It took 100 years for men to realize that the brain is also important, except when riding motorcycles. (link)

[on a joke site] Historically, the first testicular guard, the “Cup”, was invented in 1874, to provide comfort and support for bicyclists riding the cobblestone streets of Boston.

The first sports helmet was invented in 1893, to provide protection for football players, though most of the games until 1915 were played without helmets.

That means it only took 19 years for men to realize their brains might also be important. (link)

Testicular guard seems to be used only with reference to this joke, though it’s semantically transparent. On the other hand, guard, cup, and box (the latter two metaphorical) all have histories as terms for genital protection devices, and ball guard and ball cup are both attested in this sense (maybe ball box is as well, though I haven’t found it).

Guard in OED2:

A protector worn on various parts of the body by cricketers or other sportsmen. [1889, 1906 (A. E. Knight Compl. Cricketer ii. 49   Many players and most wicket-keepers wear additional guards for the more delicate parts of the body.), 1939-40] [note the delicate “more delicate parts of the body”]

Cup in OED2, draft additions March 2009:

N. Amer. Sport. A covering or shield worn by sportsmen to protect the genitals. Cf. box… [1914, 1931, 1970 (J. Bouton Ball Four ii. 35   The cups are metal inserts that fit inside the jock strap, and when a baseball hits one it’s called ringing the bell, which rhymes with hell, which is what it hurts like.), 2001]

Athletic cup is now a commercial term (a k a cup guard, protective cup), as here:

An athletic cup is an essential piece of protective gear for any active male athlete. The athletic cup should fit properly to offer maximum safety. A protective athletic cup can prevent serious injury, and the athletic cup’s high impact material prevents excessive movement. Proper protection allows an athlete to fully participate without fear of injury to the crotch area. (link) [note delicate “crotch area”]

Finally, box, from OED2:

A light shield worn by cricketers to protect the genitals. [cites from 1954, 1964]

The dating in the joke (in its classic form) takes the testicular guard (in cricket) to date from 1874. I have no idea what the history of the device is (certainly protective helmets go back to antiquity; the question here is, narrowly, when the devices were used in particular sports, not when they were first used, or when names for them were first used), but this dating moves us back to the appearance of the jock strap. From AZBlogX a while back (in a celebration of jockstraps), where 1875 figures, perhaps not accidentally, in the story:

It seems to start in the 18th century, with the “coarse slang” word jock ‘genitals of a man (or, earlier, of a woman as well)’, of (alas) unknown origin. All the citations are from dictionaries and word lists, since vocabulary like this tends not to be recorded in printed material: a 1795 dictionary of “cant and flash”, with the gloss ‘private parts’; an 1846 glossary for “swells”, with the gloss ‘man’s privates’; a 1966 dictionary of Souse, with the gloss ‘testicles’; and a 1972 dictionary of colloquial usage, with the gloss ‘penis’. Metonymy, specifically synecdoche, rules.

This jock was then combined with strap to give the compound jock-strap (as it was spelled in an 1875 U.S. patent), in the sense ‘supporter or protector for the male genitals, worn esp. by sportsmen’. Later it was spelled jock strap and jockstrap. Compound nouns are like that.

(In an entirely separate development, the word jockey, originally a nickname for Jock or John and attested from 1529, picked up various senses having to do with horses, until the modern sense appeared in 1670. The clipping of jockey to jock is first attested in OED2 in 1826, and continues in modern slang.)

Meanwhile, back in Garment City, jockstrap ‘athletic supporter’ was extended synecdochially to cover ‘athletic man’ in North American slang. Attested in 1956 in American Speech. So then jockstrap had two senses, referring to a male garment and a type of man.

Both of them were then quickly abbreviated to jock — for the supporter in 1952 (Malamud’s The Natural), for the male athlete in 1963, soon extended to cover athletes regardless of sex. (If you’re keeping track of things, you’ll see that we now have three senses of jock.)

(And then, in a ’60s spinoff from the ‘athlete’ sense, with possibly a contribution from the ‘jockey’ sense, jock as a second element in compounds denoting someone who is expert or accomplished in some area: math jock, computer jock, surfing jock, etc.)

It’s all about protecting the balls.

3 Responses to “An old joke”

  1. Melissa Says:

    Ok, so I’m still left wondering when the first “genital protection” product was used in sport and when helmets were also introduced. I get your point that helmets have been around since forever, but for battle/war, not sports. Its still funny.

  2. ScottK Says:

    Helmets in hockey are used as far back as the 20’s…

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Yes, the 1974 date (which was used for different sports in the stories on the net) is surely wrong; it would be nice to have some actual (reliable) references for the different sports, of course.

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