Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Words for Running

Haruki Murakami wrote on what he talks about when he talks about running; but what about the words we use when we talk about it? There’s plenty to say about the fact that I’m already talking about running and not jogging. The culture wars between the two – which I’ll write about another time – perhaps go as far back as the 16th century, when someone wrote ‘sore shaking or hard iogging doth trouble the wearied body’. You can say that again.

Different languages throw up some interesting things about running. In French, cross-country is simply ‘le cross’, and therefore a cross-country runner is a ‘crossman’. This suggests that the urge to put on vests and steam round muddy fields is down from being particularly enervated that day. In Italian, endurance running is rather excellently called ‘resistenza’.

Words common to various languages also grab our attention. ‘Athletics’ derives from the Greek for competition, which seems unexciting except if we consider athletics as a kind of pure competetiveness, a competition with minimal rules or technique. It’s man against clock, man against track, man against man. It’s man against himself, not in a cringeworthy, psychological kind of way, but because your own body weight holds you back whilst that same body propels you forward.

There’s also the general category of ‘sport’, a word so common that we forget to notice it. The Latin ‘deportare’ can be found within it: not dissimular to ‘export’, ‘deportare’ means to carry off, convey away, transport, banish. It’s surely more interesting than the usual guff about a sportsman’s determination to see sport as a way of transporting or transfiguring yourself, becoming other through the line of sweat droplets left behind.

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