global English language change and slang

Of Trotskyism and skateboarding

© Galina Barskaya - Fotolia.comEver read a book that mentions another book, so you then read that book too? This happened to me recently while reading Slam by Nick Hornby. In the book it mentions the autobiography of Tony Hawk. Not the British guy, the professional skateboarder. Tony is one of my heroes, so I immediately bought it too.

Now we all know that pro sportsmen are not particularly renowned for their writing prowess but I found this to be a good read. In particular I enjoyed the fact that he added so much skating lingo that the book required a glossary at the back. Looking over the list of words that appear there, you can see that many of the terms actually have been derived from the innovator of a particular move or trick.

For example, a Caballerial is a 360-degree turn while riding fakie. This move was named after Steve Caballero, who invented the trick in the early 1980s. The term combines his name with the word aerial, as the move takes place in the air. Incidentally, fakie means riding backwards to the way you would normally ride.

Another is the McTwist. This is a manoeuvre that sees a skater launching into the air and twisting through 540 degrees. The move was perfected by Mike McGill.

There are loads of other cool terms included in Tony’s book but the main thing it made me think about is how many English ‘words’ are actually formed from someone’s name.  There are ‘-isms’ that lead to ‘-ites’ and ‘-ists’ perhaps most notably in the field of politics. Marxist, Trotskyite, Maoist – the list is long.

Personally, the only label I’m keen to be associated with is goofy-footedLook it up!

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Shane Rae


  • Good blog, it’s a different language , lol , I also spend a lot of time wondering where certain words come from

  • Ha ha! My favourite sporting term named after a person has always been the Fosbury Flop – it sounds funny, and it’s kind of cool. And I can remember that one; as, like the skating terms above, it describes, or at least hints, at what it is. Most ‘isms’ I can cope with, and they often encourage me to research where the the hell the -ism came from, but if I’m asked to remember the names of chemical elements or plants that are named after people – forget it. Bloody Mary… now there’s eponym I really like 😉

  • I read the e-mail on your update, and was wondering what a Caballarial was, then I found out you need to be airborne, and then I read ‘riding fakie’ and that this means facing the opposite direction. I thought this was pretty smart because when I say ‘riding’ I usually mean on the back of a horse and the idea of me (or any other brave soul) sitting facing the tail end 🙂 while the horse does some kind of jump – maybe with a loop – made me realise that I’m not as good a rider as I thought I was… My train of thought was supported by having heard ‘Caballero’ in connection with Spanish riding, so at first I was sure that sitting backwards on a leaping, looping is horse is how it’s done. If anyone has ever attempted this I’d love to see the video!

  • While reading your latest mail, I came across the word fakie in a description of another term. I looked it up, and was surprised not to find it in the on-line dictionary. Any idea why?

  • And of course thinking about sports, there’s also the Bielmann Pirouette on ice. My favourite however, is a “malapropism”, named after Dicken’s Mrs Malaprop, who had the misfortune to use certain similar-sounding words in the wrong context. A girlfriend of mine used to have the same problem, or at least, we were never quite sure whether she did it accidently or just to make us laugh. One example from her: Make sure you read the destructions before you use the new camera.

  • Dickens certainly had characters prone to malapropisms – the Beadle in Oliver Twist says “We name our fondlings in alphabetical order” – but Mrs Malaprop herself is a character in Sheridan’s 1775 play the Rivals.

    Nina’s friend sounds like a fellow student of mine (many years ago now) who disappeared from her own birthday party for about 1o minutes, then reappeared saying: “I’m fine, thanks. I’ve just been decomposing myself”.

  • @Alison

    I’ve spent many hundreds (thousands?) of hours on the back of a horse as well. Oddly, even though I’ve been thrown off aplenty, I’ve never really injured myself. Skateboarding however has been the cause of countless broken bones.

    But, I digress. We’re talking about words here. My favourite horsy word is ‘Latigo’ . Sounds so much better than ‘girth’, no?

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