While watching The Queen's Gambit my partner asked me: why do they say "checkmate"? But she wanted to know what is the origin of this expression, not its meaning. And I realized I didn't actually know. So, what is the origin of the expression "checkmate" and its etymology?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, checkmate comes from the Middle English chekmaten, which is derived from the Anglo-French eschec mat. And this came from the Persian shāh māt through the Arabic language.
The Persian word shāh means king. (With a definite article, it becomes as-shāh, the king.)
But I found two different interpretations for māt:
- unable to escape (Merriam-Webster)
- dead (Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy, Treasure of the French Language)
So, as-shāh māt -> checkmate = the king is dead!