Monday, November 17, 2008

What Is "Gype"?

Last week, in a gasp of desperation for something to post, I threw together a silly little puzzle about food - yes, I know I often write these things before lunch, but I have just eaten, thanks. Anyway, I happened to mention the term "gype" which apparently indicates some form of sport or recreation or game.

All Chestertonians ought to know that Gype is THE game - invented by Chesterton himself, with the able assistance of H. G. Wells. It is the only sport for which the famous Chesterton University has a varsity team. They were the national champions last year, though some people seem to think this is because they are the only school on earth which has such a team. Ahem.

But what is gype? In the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) it is stated to be a variant of "gibe" or "gipel" which means a "tunic" - but in most dictionaries all you find is "gybe" - a variant of "jibe", a nautical word meaning "to shift from side to side". (Which is a curious insight into the game, after all...) But - ah - how to explain such a complex mystery... Hmm.

Those of us who have had the privilege of laughing at the famous "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip will recall Calvin often playing "Calvin-Ball", with its splendid score of "Q to 12" , its "no song" zone, its "opposite pole" and the related "I'm very sorry song", and the unforgettable picture of Calvin lugging a bucket of ice-cold water and poetically requesting his nemesis Susie Durkins to dump it on his head, as a penalty for some infraction or other. (Ah! If only the "real" sporting events had such creativity...)

Well, perhaps that sounds very juvenile. But it strongly suggests that Calvin would be a pro at Gype.

About this very unusual game, Maisie Ward reported that GKC and H. G. Wells met at Easton and
There they played at the non-existent game of Gype and invented elaborate rules for it.
[Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 376]
That is unfortunately not enough for even a Calvin to use as a rulebook. But the longest detailed discussion of the game we have fom GKC's own pen is this:
it was we who invented the well-known and widespread national game of Gype. All sorts of variations and complications were invented in connection with Gype. There was Land Gype and Water Gype. I myself cut out and coloured pieces of cardboard of mysterious and significant shapes, the instruments of Table Gype; a game for the little ones. It was even duly settled what disease threatened the over-assiduous player; he tended to suffer from Gype's Ear. My friends and I introduced allusions to the fashionable sport in our articles; Bentley successfully passed one through the Daily News and I through some other paper. Everything was in order and going forward; except the game itself, which has not yet been invented.
[GKC, Autobiography CW16:211-2]
Here is a research project for those of us who have way too much time on our hands. No! not inventing Gype; that has already been done. I mean finding these articles.

I will tell you just a little more about it, by quoting from a curious letter Dale Ahlquist received some time ago, by a man who stated how much his son enjoyed the weekend at "Chesterton University". The letter included the printed form of an e-mail letter from his son, who wrote:
Then there was this really strange game we played - I forget the name, it was something odd like jive or jike. It had a whole lot of complicated rules but it was a lot of fun. There was a board-game version and an athletic version too - they had a lot of regular equipment for a bunch of different sports, and you could pick whatever you wanted to use. It was really hilarious to watch. I took pictures. Sometimes the pitcher got tackled because he was rolling on the mound laughing. The umpires wore holsters with LOADED water pistols to administer penalties. I only got squirted twice. The board game version was also fun - after my team lost twice in a row I went in to watch. (I had to go in and see - we could hear the laughter out on the field.) Paul won one game when his queen passed GO and earned a triple word score with "syzygy" - he had three aces! I don't think he got squirted.
Speaking of e-mailsl, I have written lengthy e-mails (what else did you expect from me!) to our esteemed bloggmistress about setting up an "electronic" form of Gype which we could play over the INTERNET, but as yet we have not perfected the scheme. Every time I bring up the subject, my disk drive shoots water at me...

If you have read this far, you will understand that the mystery of Gype is perhaps even more mysterious today than it was in Chesterton's time. But it is just a smuch fun to play. Maybe at a future ChesterCon we can have a round, or inning, or whatever the unit is called... Be sure to bring your water pistol.


  1. This game actually has rules...I didn't know that!!!

  2. what kind of water you been drinking?

  3. Anon: When I drink water, I rely on a number of technical references, such as that available from the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division but also the very excellent and useful works of the CRC, and several other (non-electronic) reference works.

    But mostly I rely on the two classic references from Chesterton himself:

    "Feast on wine or fast on water,
    And your honour shall stand sure;
    God Almighty's son and daughter,
    He the valiant, she the pure.
    If an angel out of heaven
    Brings you other things to drink,
    Thank him for his kind intentions,
    Go and pour them down the sink."


    "...we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them." [Orthodoxy CW1:268]

    I hope this helps.

    OFL, please check into my references to Calvin and Hobbes; after that we might talk again.


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