Conker - conquer

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Conker and conquer are homophones. Both are stressed on the first syllable and have the indeterminate schwa vowel in the second: 'CONK-er', IPA: /kɒn kər/.

  • Conker is the idiomatic English name for the fruit of the horse chestnut tree, Æsculus Hippocastanum, sometimes called informally a conker tree. The (inedible) fruits/nuts/conkers are used in a children's game ("conkers") in the UK and elsewhere where conkers, threaded on cords, are swung against one another. The winner is the one that survives unbroken at the end of the game.
  • 'To conquer' is a verb meaning 'to acquire territory etc by force of arms [by defeating the previous possessor]', and later 'to defeat [a person or persons] by force of arms'. This became extended, and many figurative uses can be seen: a climber 'can conquer a mountain' [by reaching the summit]; a smoker 'can conquer his addiction' [by successfully giving up]; a speaker can 'conquer her nerves' by giving the speech successfully.
Perhaps the best-known monarch in English history is William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy who defeated the Anglo-Saxon King of England, Harold Godwineson, in 1066.
Etymological note: it is possible that conker has been influenced byconquer, given that the game involves defeating by force, and its name was sometimes spelled conquers. But in the earliest records of the game, the game was played by pressing two snail shells together until one broke. A French word for 'shell' is conque (allied to 'conch'), and this may be the ultimate root. Conque has also been suggested (OED) as the (figurative) origin of the slang conk, meaning 'nose' - which gives conker n. 2 meaning 'a blow on the nose'. These two words may also be involved in the etymology of the children's game.