• carom •
kæ-rêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive
Meaning: 1. Glance off, bounce off, rebound, ricochet. 2. In such games as billiards, pool, and snooker, to bounce the cue ball off one ball and hit another.
Notes: English speakers have truly had difficulty locating this word in their vocabularies. In some regions it is spelled carrom and, in still others, it has been corrupted to cannon. It is frequently confused with careen, as in "careened off the wall". Careen means "to turn a ship over for repairs". It has been used recently, due to the confusion with carom, to mean "rush headlong with an unsteady motion".
In Play: Since this word started out as a billiard term, let's give this sense a try first: "Gilliam shot the cue ball so that it caromed off the seven ball and knocked the eight ball into the side pocket." Now, though, this word has expanded its coverage to include such expressions as: "Using his mobile telephone while driving caused Rick O'Shea to carom off a telephone pole and come to rest in a ditch."
Word History: Today's word is an abbreviation for carambole "cue ball" borrowed from French quite "as is". Apparently, the word was reanalyzed as carom-ball in English, for it was used as a noun before it made its way to verbal use. In French it is a noun that referred to the red cue ball in billiards but also to the star fruit. The French borrowed it from Spanish or Portuguese carambola "star fruit" or "cue ball in billiards". It has been suggested that this word was taken from Marathi karambala "star fruit", a yellow fruit with ribs that grows in India, or Malaysian karambil "coconut". The trail stumbles here on a few problems: the star fruit is yellow and has ribs and the coconut is brown and much larger than a cue ball. (Let's hope this word of thanks does not carom off Luke Javan, who suggested today's Good Word.)