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球 is literally "ball", and Takoboto includes "line up" and "expel" as some literal meanings for 排, and I could buy either one of those as descriptions of the game "volleyball." I'm curious about the history of this term.

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  • Are you looking for an etymology of 排球?
    – A.Ellett
    Commented May 31 at 20:56
  • Yes. Updated tags.
    – spazquest
    Commented May 31 at 21:23

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I can only find limited information online.

The Nihon Kokugo Daijiten ("NKD") entry available online via Kotobank here gives us a first citation of 1931, but no other etymological information.

The 世界大百科事典【せかいだいひゃっかじてん】 entry further down that same page simply notes that 「かつて〈排球【はいきゅう】〉とも呼【よ】んだ。」 ("Formerly also called haikyū.") Other encyclopedia entries on the バレーボール Kotobank page note that the 大日本排球協会【だいにっぽんはいきゅうきょうかい】 was established in 1927, so the NKD citation is at least four years late for a first use in Japanese.

I've consulted a couple Chinese dictionaries, and these indicate that 排球 is also used in at least a few Chinese languages. I cannot find any etymologies or dates, however, so it remains unclear if the Chinese term is borrowed from the Japanese, or the other way around, or if it might even be an independent coinage.

At any rate, the Chinese term 排 (and its borrowed Japanese kanji) does include a sense of "expel; push away", which is pretty much how you play volleyball: "push-away ball" seems a better descriptor in some ways than the English name "volleyball". 😄


UPDATE

Looking at the Chinese Wikipedia page for 排球, there's mention that this was introduced at the first Far Eastern Championship Games in 1913, played between China, Japan, and the Philippines (among others). This is the same year that @aguijonazo mentions in their comment as when volleyball was first introduced to Japan, so it is likely that these Far Eastern Championship Games were the catalyst.

Timing-wise, it is unclear whether this was coined in Japanese or Chinese first. Considering the planning in organizing the games, it is possible that this was a joint coinage, agreed upon by the Japanese and Chinese delegates to the planning committee(s).

Side note: About the Chinese senses for 排, I have a print version of the 汉语词典 (Hàn Yǔ Cí Diǎn, "A Chinese-English Dictionary") from 1989. The entry there includes the following senses that seem appropriate for this term 排球:

⑦ exclude; eject; discharge ... ⑧ push

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    Keep pushing the ball away so it doesn't fall on your side of the court? That's indeed one way to look at it.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jun 1 at 0:33
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    Kotobank states that 〈手でおして開く〉**〈列に並べる〉**〈退ける〉を意味する〈排〉の字を用いて,かつて〈排球〉とも呼んだ。 From what I can find from Chinese sources, 排 in 排球 seem to only be explained as 列に並べる, (選手站成一排一排的), and no one is seeing 排 in the sense of "to push away." In Chinese, 排 is a verb meaning "to expel" for sure but more commonly as a noun to mean "a row of xxx." Japanese also has 排列する. Still, I could not find sources on whether it's imported from Japanese or the other way around.
    – dvx2718
    Commented Jun 1 at 4:22
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    If we are to believe Wikipedia, the game was introduced in Japan in 1913, eighteen years after its invention in America, and the first dedicated competition in 1919 was already called 排球競技会. I would guess the game had been known by that name since 1913. I'm not sure Chinese at that time were in the mood for such a leisurely activity. It's interesting that the two languages agree on this bizarre name when they disagree about what to call some other sports including football (soccer), baseball and tennis.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jun 1 at 23:07

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