Sporting Vernacular 24. Choke

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WHEN Jean Van de Velde threw away an imposing lead in the last round of the Open Championship the newspapers evoked memories of other great chokers.

It is not clear how a word used originally to denote suffocation through constriction of the windpipe came to be applied to the phenomenon of losing when victory seems assured but there may be a clue in etymology of the word "anxious", which comes from the Latin anxius, whose origin was angere, meaning to choke or be distressed.

"Choke" (which means to cut off the air supply by constricting the cheeks actually conveys very well the idea of seizing up. Consider also that "chokepairs" and "chokecherries" are harsh and astringent. Choking last Sunday was truly a bitter experience for Van de Velde.

Chris Maume