This word is presented here just for your diversion; you won’t get to use it in earnest – it hasn’t been current in English since before Shakespeare’s time. But what is fun if a bit of ultimately otiose intellectual exercise isn’t? Those of us who go running for fun and exercise aren’t trying to get anywhere, and there are various other ways of killing time that amuse without direct issue.

Esbatement may look like basement, but it’s not, though some people may find self-abasement to be an esbatement. It also looks like abatement, and to that it is related, though we need to beat back the semantic connections. Both esbatement and abatement trace to the same Latin verb, battuere, but with different prefixes: ab- versus ex-. The route to esbatement is especially diverting, however.

Let’s start with battuere, also known by its first-person singular indicative form, battuo: ‘I beat’ or ‘I fight’ or, as Wiktionary puts it, “I bang (have sex with)” (Latin is not the only language in which a word for bonking is a word for boinking). That combines with ex- ‘out’ to give exbattere. This has passed into modern Italian as sbattere with an assortment of uses: ‘beat’, ‘bump’, ‘shake’, ‘whip’, ‘whisk’, ‘chuck’, ‘force’, ‘wear out’, and – again – ‘boink’ (i.e., ‘bang’). But that’s not where our esbatement came from.

No, we got it from French, Old French in specific. The Old French verb was esbattre, and the noun derived from that was esbattement, or esbatement. It has come to be spelled ébattre and ébattement in modern French. Littré gives some nice historical examples of its use. Here’s from the 1300s: “En certains esbattemens comme luittes ou courses pour soy eschauffer et exerciter” – that can be translated as “In certain esbatements such as wrestling or races to get energized and exercised.” Here’s from the 1500s: “Les dames se trouvoient aux esbatemens publiques et assistoient à veoir les jeux” – “The ladies found themselves at public esbatements and attended to see the games.”

So it means fights, competitions, matches? Well, sure, but it has come to have a broader meaning: ‘amusement’, ‘diversion’, ‘recreation’. The word came over into English by the 1400s with that trend of sense, and Oxford has some nice historical quotations. Here’s one from 1531: “If he haue pleasure in wrestling … where shall he se any more plesant esbatementes, than that.” 

Apparently wrestling and other things involving beating were considered excellent sport at the time. We often incline to less physical, more verbal entertainments in our time. But words are not only recently a good sport – here’s William Caxton, who brought the printing press to England, in 1484: “These wordes are but sport and esbatement of lordes.”

So… we have verbally mastered esbatement for our own diversion, as it has been diverted from thrashing or even tongue-lashing to just a lush luxury of linguistics. Doesn’t that beat all!

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