For the third year in a row, I've signed onto a badminton doubles team for the On the Boards season-opening party, Badminton Royale. (There's a prize for best smack-talking on the court.) So I thought I'd fire up the old online etymological dictionary and see where "shuttlecock" comes from...
Well. That's not terribly helpful.
Turns out that "shuttle" is all about shooting:
O.E. scytel "a dart, arrow," from W.Gmc. *skutilaz (cf. O.N. skutill "harpoon"), from P.Gmc. *skut- "project" (see shoot). The weaving instrument so called (mid-14c.) from being "shot" across the threads. In some other languages, the machine takes its name from its resemblance to a boat (cf. L. navicula, Fr. navette, Ger. weberschiff). Sense of "train that runs back and forth" is first recorded 1895, from image of the weaver's instrument's back-and-forth movement over the warp; extended to aircraft 1942, to spacecraft 1969.
"Cock" in its first sense has roots all across Europe: Old English cocc, Old French coc (or coq), and old Norse kokkr, all of onomatopoeic origin. In its second sense:
in various mechanical senses, such as cock of a faucet (early 15c.) is of uncertain connection with cock (n.1), but German has hahn "hen" in many of the same senses. The cock of an old matchlock firearm is 1560s, hence half-cocked "with the cock lifted to the first catch, at which position the trigger does not act" (by 1809).
So the shuttlecock is a missile that looks like a chicken. Which is, perhaps, why we call it a "birdie."
I guess I should've seen that one coming.