Although now the name of a popular cigarette and of a street in London, the names were both derived from an old outdoor game.
The original game and its name were of French origin, literally a game of ball, pane, and mallet, maille.
The game was popular in France in the sixteenth century and, when introduced in the reign of Charles I (1625-49), became popular in England.
The boxwood ball used in the game was about the size of the modern croquet ball, and the mallet, also of wood, was similar to the croquet mallet, except that the head was curved and the two faces sloped toward the shaft.
The game was played on an alley of considerable length, from the starting point at one end to an iron ring suspended at some height at the other end. The player was winner who took the fewest strokes to drive his ball through the ring.
The most noted alley in London in which the game was played was that near St. James’s, now bearing the name of the game. The French name was long retained, but because of its pronunciation the spelling was altered by some to pell-mell.
Others, however, recalled that the Latin sources of the French words were respectively pallet and malleus, and therefore insisted upon the spelling pall-mall, which; nevertheless, is still pronounced in England either as if spelled “pell-mell” or like the first syllables of “pallet” and “mallet” respectively.