An entry from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary made it onto Twitter this week: in lieu of a definition of the word trolmydames in his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, Johnson merely included the caveat that “of this word I know not the meaning”.
Why include the word at all if he didn’t know what it meant? Well, Johnson was keen to include as many Shakespearisms in his dictionary as possible, and so was compelled to include it thanks to a quote from The Winter’s Tale, in which Shakespeare wrote of “A fellow, sir, that I have known to go about with trolmydames”.
Johnson wasn’t to know, but troll-my-dames—or pigeon-holes, or nineholes, as it was also known—was a game popular in Elizabethan England in which “the object was to ‘troll’ [i.e. roll] balls through arches set on a board”. Essentially, it was a kind of tabletop cross between croquet and ten-pin bowling.
The name itself, meanwhile, is a corruption of the French trou-madame, or “hole, madam!”—which was apparently shouted by female competitors when they scored a point.
So of this word, we now actually know quite a lot.