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The first known use of the word ball in English in the sense of a globular body that is played with was in 1205 in Laȝamon's Brut, or Chronicle of Britain in the phrase, "Summe heo driuen balles wide ȝeond Þa feldes. " The word came from the Middle English bal (inflected as ball-e, -es, in turn from Old Norse böllr (pronounced [bɔlːr]; compare Old Swedish baller, and Swedish boll) from Proto-Germanic ballu-z (whence probably Middle High German bal, ball-es, Middle Dutch bal), a cognate with Old High German ballo, pallo, Middle High German balle from Proto-Germanic *ballon (weak masculine), and Old High German ballâ, pallâ, Middle High German balle, Proto-Germanic *ballôn (weak feminine). No Old English representative of any of these is known. (The answering forms in Old English would have been beallu, -a, -e—compare bealluc, ballock. ) If ball- was native in Germanic, it may have been a cognate with the Latin foll-is in sense of a "thing blown up or inflated. " In the later Middle English spelling balle the word coincided graphically with the French balle "ball" and "bale" which has hence been erroneously assumed to be its source. French balle (but not boule) is assumed to be of Germanic origin, itself, however. In Ancient Greek the word πάλλα (palla) for "ball" is attested besides the word "σφαίρα", sphere.

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