Face shot. Gaper gap. Death cookies. Beta. Flash. Trad. Guppy. Domestique. Bonk. LSD. Rabbit. Fartlek. BQ. A-frame. Amped. Mushy.
The words obviously mean something to someone. But if you’re not part of the crowd, they’re a downright foreign language. And until you can say them with a certain confidence, using the slang for your sport of choice comes across like a tween cursing in front of her mom for the first time: timid, anxious, and ready to be grounded.
There’s a perfectly legitimate reason that slang, jargon, vernacular develops in any sport. Good ol’ Merriam Webster defines the linguistic tic as “language used for a particular activity or by a particular group of people.” Sociologically, it’s the natural extension of-and reason for-any type of language: to connect a group. Despite its bad rap, jargon isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Plus, there’s a comforting informality to slangy sports terms. Describing snow texture as a combination of temperature, water density, and atomic mass may be technically more descriptive. But that’s a heck of a lot more tedious and passionless than blower, mank, or boilerplate.
Thanks to corporate-speak, we tend to recoil from the word “jargon.” So there’s a worthy quibble as to whether we should say jargon or lingo. In practice, the definitions are nearly interchangeable. Lingo is inclusive of the whole vibe and manner of speaking, including the words that are created or co-opted for the sport. Jargon zeroes in a bit more on the technical words and phrases themselves, also whether created or co-opted. While the speech pattern of the stereotypical surfer is laid back (see: lingo), even the most uptight surfer needs jargon to describe a particular wave to his/her peers.
The process of a regular word evolving into jargon begins with pure intentions most of the time. I mean…come on! No one ever chose fartlek as a word that would define the exclusivity of their social group. A Swedish running coach in the 1930s devised a training program that emphasized varying speeds. Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play.” The program caught on and the name stuck. Fartlek, which is an instant punchline for our inner five-year-olds, is a simple word that communicates a more complex concept for runners in the know. Enough said.
Jargon can have a dark side. Dr. Karen Sternheimer is a professor of sociology at USC. She writes, “Social groups create special language – like jargon – in part to make communication short cuts, but mostly to clearly delineate who is a member and who is not.” Merriam-Webster piles on the suspect side of jargon by calling it “obscure and often pretentious language.”
You don’t want to think that type of shade happens in our chill, outdoor-loving, active lifestyles. Still, you know it when you hear it, right?
In the mouths of most outdoor, human-powered sports peeps, jargon is a unifier and an efficient means to communicate. Even so, when you’re vested in a sport that you’re passionate about, it becomes harder over time to determine what is just a word and what is jargon.
Do non- (climbers, skiers, surfers, ultramarathoners, cyclists, kayakers) appear confused when I talk about my day?
Do I change my vocabulary when I’m talking about my sport to someone of a different generation? (Jargon evolves over time.)
Do Word and Google call me out on spelling and grammar checks for words that are totally legit to my sport?
If you answered yes to any of those, welcome to the club…bro.