Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fitness Slang and Euphemism

Several years ago, I bought Slang and Euphemism: A Dictionary of Oaths, Curses, Insults, Ethnic Slurs, Sexual Slang and Metaphor, Drug Talk, College Lingo, and Related Matters by Richard A. Spears. To give you a taste of what this delightful reference paperback has to offer, here is a randomly chosen entry: “booze-king a drunkard. [Australian, 1900s, Baker].” (If that piques your interest, see the work of Sidney J. Baker for more.)

I have used this book probably three times at the most, which is a pity. Since it’s easier to just search online for slang I don’t understand, I don’t foresee needing it often. Yet as I’ve told my beginning college writing students, physically searching for something—on the library shelves, in a reference book—as opposed to using an online search engine can lead you to discover things you might otherwise not have found. (Of course, the same thing can happen online, but still.) 

So to justify my $7.99 purchase of this book, but more so to have some fun, I’ve leafed through it a few times and found some slang terms and euphemisms that apply to the world of fitness. Perhaps these will make your next trip to the gym or set of grueling exercises more enjoyable.

Awning Over the Toyshop, Bread-basket, Auntie Nelly – synonyms for the abdomen or a large paunch.
Mantra as you’re suffering through ab exercises: “One less roll in the bread-basket. One less roll in the bread-basket.”
Reply to a cruel remark or egregious breach of gym etiquette: “You know, venturing beyond level 1 on the elliptical might help you get rid of that awning over the toyshop faster.”

Gritch – 1. to complain. A blend of "gripe" and "bitch." 2. a complainer.
Incorporate into a pep talk, to yourself or someone else: “Whenever you have the urge to gritch, think about how much better you feel when you exercise.”

Troller – a male exhibitionist; a flasher. As a fisherman might cast out his line and drag it around to catch something.
Explain decorum to a gym newbie: “Try not to act like those trollers over there who make Robert Opel look positively self-effacing.”
Console yourself after bungling a tricky exercise: “Remember, you’re not here to be a troller. You’re here to be healthy.”

York, Flay the Fox, Quocken, Call for Hughie – synonyms for vomiting
Illustrate the desired level of intensity for a workout: “After doing this set of intervals, you should be on the verge of flaying the fox.”
Reality check for yourself or someone else: “The last time you did squats, they hurt, but nothing terrible happened. You didn’t faint, you didn’t york, you didn’t die.”

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Think as a Roman Thought: Marcus Aurelius and Fitness, Part 1

According to the classicist Gregory Hays, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius “never thought of himself as a philosopher. He would have claimed to be, at best, a diligent student and a very imperfect practitioner of a philosophy [Stoicism] developed by others.”1 Be that as it may, most scholars today regard Marcus Aurelius as an important Stoic philosopher, and I find his major work Meditations to be full of wisdom and interesting ideas. 

The most fitness-y image I could find.

Although Meditations contains very few direct references to physical fitness, I’ve noticed that several passages are relevant to this subject, particularly to one’s attitude about exercise. Take Book 6, number 48. Easy to understand, this passage is a good way to ease into Marcus Aurelius, though I should add that overall Meditations is much easier to understand than, say, Nietzsche or Hegel.  

“When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them.”2

Anyone serious about exercise has those killer workouts where some sort of encouragement is essential to prevent rebellion from aching muscles or exhausted lungs. The next time this happens to me, I’m going to try modifying Marcus Aurelius’s strategy and think of the qualities of exercisers I know, though they’ll only be “visibly embodied” in my mind’s eye.

Britt, I will think of your powerful muscles and your ability to use them throughout the day almost every day.
Bruce, I will think of your commitment to working to genuine failure every time you lift weights.
David, I will think of your remarkable constancy and adherence to your fitness goals.
Deb, I will think of your sensitivity to your body’s needs so that I don’t push myself to the point of recklessness.
Richard, I will think of your seemingly endless energy (and try to channel it from afar).

These are only a few of the people I know whose qualities impress me, but it’s a good start.

1. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, trans. Gregory Hays (New York: Modern Library, 2004), vii.
2. Ibid, 71.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I recently read a magazine blurb about an actress who shies away from the weight machine area of the gym. “Maybe it’s a mental thing,” she said, “but I think of lifting weights as something for dudes.” Maybe it’s a mental thing? What else could a thought be but a mental thing?

We all say things that on closer examination don’t make much sense, and it is not that aspect of this remark that frustrates me. I will probably elaborate on that frustration in a future post, but another thing this quotation does is give me a nice lead-in to the purpose of this blog. Exercise is obviously a physical endeavor, but there are so many ways in which it can be a mental endeavor as well. I have been lifting weights (and putting them back down) regularly for almost eight years, and in that time I have thought a great deal about weightlifting and other forms of exercise—what they require of you, how they change you, how they relate to other aspects of our lives, and so on.

There are hundreds of fitness blogs that focus on which exercises to do, how to do them, the right nutrition for building muscle, and related subjects. What I want to do with this blog is share my thoughts on the intellectual side of fitness, particularly weightlifting.

What influence can the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius have on one’s attitude toward exercise?
Can weight machines illustrate for mechanically doltish people like me how simple machines work, and maybe get that information to stick in the brain for once?
How might euphemisms make grueling exercises more palatable? 

These are the sorts of ideas I will explore.

It’s not that I’ll never explain how to do a particular exercise, for example, but there are plenty of people more qualified than me to blog more strictly in that vein. I may not be the only person qualified to write a blog that I’ve been telling people will be “fitness with an academic and intellectual twist,” but I think I will be good at it, and if you care about both brains and brawn, I think you will enjoy following the Little Mouse.