I've always fascinated by chess. Today, I'm a whiz at planning strategy and using the various pieces to best advantage. But I still remember how I got hooked on chess as a young kid. Of course, like most kids, my love affair with chess started by watching my elders play. My eyebrows would always rise and I would always be spellbound whenever one of my older cousins would exclaim "checkmate" which a triumphant smile and a gleam in his eyes. I told myself, I want that feeling, too. So, I started to play chess.
When I found out exactly how checkmate got its meaning, I was hooked all the more. Similarly, the word 'checkmate' comes from the English translation of the Persian phras "shah mat" which means "the king is finished". As an impressionable young child with dreams of heroism and courage in warfare, slaying an opponent's king was the ultimate for me. And even the pieces have such interesting meanings.
For example, the word 'rook' came from the word 'rath' in Sanskrit which is translated as 'chariot.' However, it has other meanings in other languages. In Persia, it refers to the word 'roc' which is a great mythical bird with supernatural powers. In India, the piece is called 'haathi' or 'elephant.'
Interestingly enough, the bishop is also called 'elephant' or 'pil' in Persia. There were little or no elephants in Europe and the west, yet the reference to this piece as an elephant spread there nonetheless. In Russia, the bishop is referred to as 'slon' the Russian word for elephant. In Spain, the piece is called 'alfil,' which is believe to have come from the Arabic words for elephant (al is the, fil is elephant). The piece was previously only referred to as a bishop in England mainly because of the original shape of the piece feted the tusk of an elephant which resemble a bishop's mitre.
The there's the queen. The piece was originally called 'farzin' or 'vizier' in Persia and 'firzan' in Arabic. In Russia, the piece was called the 'fers.' It is also known as 'alfferza' in Western Europe.