linguistics and lexicography Love English

Stories behind Words: keirin

www.wordle.netIt is a little more than a year since the London Olympics and Paralympics thrilled even those whose usual reaction to competitive sport is to ignore it completely. Inspired by stellar performances from British athletes, people who could hardly tell one end of a hockey stick from the other swiftly became experts in the intricacies of rowing and the subtleties of dressage.

One of the major focuses of attention was the velodrome, where gold medals for GB in both the men’s (Sir Chris Hoy) and women’s races (Victoria Pendleton) brought the word keirin to brief prominence. This race, where riders are led for many laps by a pacemaker – usually a man on a motorbike – before sprinting for the finish, was invented in Japan in the mid 20th century and only became part of the Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

The literal meaning of keirin is something like “racing wheels” and the word seems set to join other words of Japanese origin like kimono, haiku and karaoke that have incontestably become part of English. Unless of course, like the ill-fated madison, the keirin is dropped from subsequent Olympics.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter


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