1) Early meanings are associated with 'labouring' or 'exerting oneself', but later it came to mean 'overcoming' or 'emerging victorious' in terms of harvesting crops or mining coal and minerals.

The expression ‘to win coal’ is met with in many mining contexts but its history is far from straightforward. The verb ‘to win’ can be traced back to Old English and is on record from the ninth century when the associations were with ‘labouring’ or ‘exerting oneself’, even ‘tilling the ground’. Only later did it come to mean ‘overcoming’ or ‘emerging victorious’ although these are the allusions with which we are now most familiar. From the fourteenth century, crops in the fields could be ‘won’, and in Scotland the expression to win coal, stone or other minerals was usual from the 1400s. It was probably a regional term, since the earliest examples in England occur in the northern counties, notably in co. Durham in 1447. In 1708, the phrase ‘to win a Colliery’ was used in the north-east and the same writer spoke of ‘Estates or Lands wherein Coal Mines are wrought or may be won’. The first Yorkshire evidence dates from the sixteenth century: 1591 works there made for the getting and winning of coals, Northowram

1665 freedom to … dig and win coal, Crigglestone

1719 three bencks wining 3s 0d, Farnley

1766 whereby the colliery when won may be drowned, set on fire, choked up or otherwise damnified, Boothtown. It had ‘get’ and ‘gain’ as apparent synonyms: 1754 workmen … employed in or about the gaining, winning or getting ofseams of coal, Beeston but emerged as the semi-official term in the nineteenth century, used for example in the Inclosure Award for Shelley: 1803 to have, hold, win, work and enjoy all mines of coal, and in other legal documents: 1869 ‘I conceive that coal is won when it is put in a state in which continuous working can go forward in the ordinary way’. See gain, get.

dates 1447 1591 1665 1708 1719 1754 1766 1803

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