We did not invent boules games either. Boules games have a very long history, dating back through the Middle Ages to ancient Rome, and before that to ancient Greece and Egypt. But there is not one French who has never played Pétanque once …

In France in the second half of the 19th century a form of boules known as jeu provençal (or boule lyonnaise) was extremely popular. In this form of the game players rolled their boules or ran three steps before throwing a boule. Pétanque originally developed as an offshoot or variant of jeu provençal in 1910, in what is now called the Jules Lenoir Boulodrome in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles. A former jeu provençal player named Jules Lenoir was afflicted by rheumatism so severe that he could no longer run before throwing a boule. In fact, he could barely stand. A good friend named Ernest Pitiot was a local café owner. In order to accommodate his friend Lenoir, Pitiot developed a variant form of the game in which the length of the pitch or field was reduced by roughly half, and a player, instead of running to throw a boule, stood, stationary, in a circle. They called the game pieds tanqués, “feet planted” (on the ground), a name that eventually evolved into the game’s current name, pétanque.

Lexicon of terms used by the petanque player

  • to have the point
A team is said to “have the point” if one of its boules is closer to the jack than any of the opposing team’s boules. A team that has the point is basically in a winning position, so the team that does NOT have the point throws the next boule and attempts to gain the point.
  • boule devant, boule d’argent
Roughly “A ball in front is a money ball”. This maxim reminds players that when pointing, the most valuable place for a boule is in front of the jack. In that location, it prevents opponents from throwing directly toward the jack, and hitting it will push it even closer to the jack.
  • to point
To throw one’s boule with the intent of stopping near the jack (also known as placing).
  • to shoot
To throw one’s boule at an opponent’s boule (or at the jack) in an attempt to knock it out of play. When the opposing team has a boule positioned very close to the jack, often the best strategy is to attempt to shoot it. A team in a desperate situation may attempt to save itself by shooting the jack out of bounds.
  • to lob
(French: une portée) To throw one’s boule in a high arc so that when it lands it only rolls minimally.
  • carreau
A shot that knocks an opposing boule away from the jack and replaces it (in very nearly the same spot) with the thrower’s own boule. Basically, the perfect shot.
  • to fanny (mettre fanny in French)
To win a game without the opposing team scoring any points; a shutout game. When a player loses 13 to 0, he is said to fanny (“il est fanny“, he’s fanny, or “il a fait fanny“, he made fanny) and must kiss the bottom of a girl named Fanny. Virtually everywhere in Provence where pétanque is played, you will find a picture, woodcarving, or pottery figure of a bare-bottomed lass named Fanny. Often, the team that made “fanny” has to buy a round of drinks for the winning team (“Fanny paie à boire!“, “the fanny pays for the drinks!”).