\ \ [18] Stalemate is a compound noun, based on the now obsolete stalestalemate’. And this in turn was probably borrowed from Anglo- Norman estalefixed position’, a derivative of Old French estalerhalt’, which also underlies English stale and stall. So etymologically, when you reach stalemate in chess, you have to ‘stand’ or ‘halt’ where you are, going neither forward nor back.

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

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  • Stalemate — Stale mate , v. t. (Chess) To subject to a stalemate; hence, to bring to a stand. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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