Playing Trivial Pursuit in (European) Portuguese the other day, I came across the word volante, used in the context of a sport played with a raquete. Since, in context, it could only reasonably refer to the sport of badminton, we were intrigued by the European Portuguese word used for what is called in English the shuttlecock. In Brazilian Portuguese, it is known as a peteca. I don’t know why the word volante is used (it is similar in Italian, French and Spanish), but it seems strange to a Brazilian Portuguese speaker, because the word volante is usually used to mean a steering wheel!
The modern game of badminton was reputedly invented in England in the seventeenth century, but its origins are lost in the mists of time and stretch back to China and Asia a couple of thousand years ago. Happily, the etymology of the word ‘shuttlecock’ seems clearer: a ‘shuttle’ was the part of a weaving machine or loom in the 15th century that was passed back and forward continuously through the threads, and ‘cock’ referred to the feathers of the male fowl, the rooster (galo).