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And when did it start being used that way? Before or after the bird meaning of "rook"?

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

etymonline.com

"chess piece," c.1300, from O.Fr. roc, from Arabic rukhkh, from Pers. rukh, of unknown meaning, perhaps somehow related to the Indian name for the piece, rut, from Hindi rath "chariot."

According to the OED, the word rook meaning the bird was first used circa 725.

So it seems that the two words have different origins.

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rukh is normally assumed to refer to a roc (as in Sinbad). Enough to confuse the issue, at least. –  TimLymington Sep 22 '11 at 22:27
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The rook is definitely named from the Persian word rukh meaning war-chariot as the corresponding piece in Oriental games is also called a chariot. However as the game came to Europe the word got confused with the Italian word rocca meaning a tower. That's why it's represented as a fortified tower and referred to informally as a castle. Nothing to do with the bird.

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Interesting theory. Citation? –  Nate Eldredge Jun 18 '13 at 13:22
    
rocca is on the Wikipedia entry en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rook_%28chess%29 although I'm fairly sure this theory is in the Oxford Companion to Chess (Hooper & Whyld) but I don't have my copy within reach. –  TheMathemagician Jun 18 '13 at 17:11
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In the first case (when the word is used to refer to a chess piece), the origin of the word is Middle English, from Old French rock, based on Arabic ruḵḵ.
In the second case, the origin of the word is from Old English hrōc.

The word has been first used to refer to the bird, but the two words have different origins.

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