Learning some of the lingo of these sports can let you into the athlete's world just a little bit, even if you have terrible balance or can barely tread water.
The Games of the 31st Olympiad, The Summer Olympics, begin on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Olympics stirs up a one-of- a-kind combination of patriotism and athletic competition that make it required viewing for two weeks every two years. With the exception of events like soccer and basketball, most of the events are sports that we see only during the Olympics. Watching them is like entering a different world, or learning a new language. The commentators try to guide the viewer, but it can be difficult to get your head around what a "reverse 2.5 somersault pike with 1.5 twists" is, exactly, never mind thinking of someone actually performing one and landing safely in a pool Each of the twenty-eight sports that make up the Rio Summer Olympics is like that, with a jargon and a tradition all its own. Here I'll be exploring some of the language specific to some popular Summer Olympic events.
Gymnastics is an extremely popular sport during the Olympic Games, as the athletes display amazing strength, balance and poise on various pieces of athletic equipment. It is when confronting one of those pieces of equipment that we encounter our first linguistic issue. Now, "the uneven bars" couldn't be more clear or self-explanatory as a name for something, but what is a pommel horse? The word pommel goes back to the 13th century, and it referred to a knob or the hilt of a sword. Modern-day pommels don't really resemble knobs, but the analogy is clear enough in that they are both things one grabs onto. Interestingly, the term pommel is also used in another Summer Olympic sport, fencing, to describe the part of the weapon that connects the place where the weapon is gripped and the guard piece to the blade itself. This pommel is round and looks more like those pieces that were traditionally called pommels, a word which ultimately comes from the Latin pomum, which means "apple."
Fencing originates from the deadly practice of fighting with swords, but it developed into a sport in Italy and France, and it is the latter especially that is the source of many of the sport's special terminology. For example, unlike in the movies, en garde, French for "on guard," is not the signal to start a match. En garde actually begins a three command sequence (sort of like "ready, set, go") which continues with prêt ("ready") and ends with allez, which means "go."
A fencing term that has a life outside the sport is riposte. A riposte is an attack made right after your opponent's attack has been deflected. Riposte comes from French and Italian words that mean"a reply" and that is exactly what a riposte is in common usage (when swords aren't involved). When someone insults you and you reply by insulting them, you have engaged in a riposte and have joined a war of words and wits.
In both diving and gymnastics, you're likely to hear of an athlete assuming a pike position. Pike refers to a straight-kneed position where the body is folded forward at the waist and the toes are pointed. A pike in this instance relates to the shape of any of several kinds of digging tools. The position is likely called a pike because with the pointed toes, the body gives the appearance of tapering to a point, just like those digging tools.
As in gymnastics, when a diver flips their feet over their head, it is called a somersault. This word dates from the 1520s and is ultimately from Latin elements supra "over" and saltus, "to leap."
Other Linguistic Treats from the Olympics
Not all the jargon from the Olympics are familiar terms with unfamiliar stories behind them. Sometimes the terms themselves are obscure. For example, a group of cyclists in a close pack is called a peloton, after a French word, peleton for "platoon." In archery, the correct distance between an archer’s bow and the string is called a fistmele, a unit of measure from Old English which equals a clenched fist with the thumb extended.
Like the French fencing terms mentioned, some terms used in the international contest that is the Olympic Games have been borrowed into English directly from their languages of origin. This often happens in the case of the martial arts. Taekwondo and Judo are the two martial arts in the Olympic Games this year, two sports that are well-established in America so even if their names came from another language, they are pretty familiar. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art whose name is made up of three parts: tae, meaning “kick or jump,” kwon, meaning "fist or hand," and do which means "the way." Similarly, Judo comes from Japan and translates as "gentle way."
The Olympic Games are full of athletes performing amazing feats of skill, strength, and endurance. For just a little while every four years, these men and women -- who train and practice tirelessly in anticipation of a moment of glory -- take center stage. Getting to know these athletes can also involve becoming familiar with the language that is specific to their sport. Learn this list to broaden your Olympian vocabulary.
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