Israel, it was recently reported, might be reaching its Covid “endgame”. This refers not to the 1957 absurdist play of that title by Samuel Beckett but to a potential coronavirus-free existence. So why “endgame” rather than simply “end”?

In chess, the endgame follows the middlegame: forces are depleted, and one side is often attempting to promote a pawn. (Though you can also have queen endgames, and middlegames without queens.) It was coined thus in 1884 as “end game” by the chess writer Bernard Horwitz. Since an endgame can go on for a hundred moves or more, it is very much not a final destination but, as Winston Churchill once had it, only the beginning of the end.

In recent times, though, “endgame” has acquired a metaphorical sense of someone’s final plan or aim, usually disguised. To ask what is a person’s endgame is to wonder how they plan to cash out or triumph from their mysterious activities. Let us hope the Covid virus itself, then, does not have an endgame. And remember that, as Avengers: Endgame (2019) teaches us, even the end of an endgame might not be final, as long as someone can invent time travel in the next movie.

Steven Poole’s A Word for Every Day of the Year is published by Quercus.

This content first appear on the guardian

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