The two meanings of league are quite different — either it’s a group or federation joined for a common purpose (say, your bowling league or the League of Nations) or it’s a rough measurement of about three miles, usually at sea.

One would hope that two such different meanings of the same word would have some deep connection far back in word history, but it does not seem to be the case here. The word meaning "an agreement of groups" appears to be related to the French word ligue, also found in ligature ("thing that ties"), while the league of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (an excellent adventure book if you’re in the mood) is from Middle English. We call words like these homographs — since spelling is all they seem to share!

Definitions of league
  1. noun
    an association of states or organizations or individuals for common action
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    Five Nations, Iroquois League, League of Iroquois, Six Nations
    a league of Iroquois tribes including originally the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca (the Five Nations); after 1722 they were joined by the Tuscarora (the Six Nations)
    type of:
    a political unit formed from previously independent people or organizations
  2. noun
    an association of sports teams that organizes matches for its members
    synonyms: conference
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    big league, major league, majors
    the most important league in any sport (especially baseball)
    bush league, minor league, minors
    a league of teams that do not belong to a major league (especially baseball)
    baseball league
    a league of baseball teams
    basketball league
    a league of basketball teams
    bowling league
    a league of bowling teams
    football league
    a league of football teams
    hockey league
    a league of hockey teams
    Ivy League
    a league of universities and colleges in the northeastern United States that have a reputation for scholastic achievement and social prestige
    class, division
    a league ranked by quality
    little league
    a commercially sponsored baseball league for players between 8 and 12 years of age
    type of:
    a formal organization of people or groups of people
  3. verb
    unite to form a league
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    type of:
    unify, unite
    act in concert or unite in a common purpose or belief
  4. noun
    an obsolete unit of distance of variable length (usually 3 miles)
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    type of:
    linear measure, linear unit
    a unit of measurement of length
Word Family

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