Word Games

October 4, 2010

I imagine I’m not alone in this behavior, but it strikes me as rather quirky: I often catch myself staring at things that are “mine,” to help me define myself – trying to “see” them as they define me.  For instance, a number of times I’ve looked at my beaten up 1993 Oldsmobile for extended periods of time and tried to really “see” it. See it as something which means “Me.”  Or sometimes I’ll walk around my apartment and try to understand that as “Lynne’s Apartment,”  and try, with little success, to grab onto what “Lynne” is through that investigation.

I do the same thing with words.  When I was accepted to college  in 1999, I remember saying the name of my school over and over again in my head, trying to grasp what that defined me as.  And I know I’m not alone in saying my own name over and over, until it doesn’t seem to mean anything anymore.

So, recently, a number of people have been using a particular word to describe me – one I’d never thought anyone would use in reference to me – and the same pattern has emerged.  Apparently, a number of folks in my life see me as an “athlete.”  I actually laughed out loud typing that because it seems so funny to me.  But having received the title a couple times, I became very curious about the word.  Being a former  Linguistics minor, and having a supreme nerd-fixation on the origin of words, I decided to look up the etymology of “Athlete.”

1520s, from L. athleta, from Gk. athletes “contestant in the games,” agent noun from athlein “to contest for a prize,” rel. to athlos “a contest” and athlon “a prize,” of unknown origin…

I was interested, but not necessarily surprised, to discover that the concept of competition is fundamentally built into the word.  What’s more fascinating to me is the subsequent realization that we don’t have a word in the English language that means one-who-engages-in-lots-of-exercise-without-competing-against-anyone-else.

There’s no word for me!  So I’ve charged myself with coming up with one.  Any input from my various wordnerd readers will be much appreciated.

Some thoughts:




Fitnessite is growing on me… but it’s not the most elegant term.  Seriously – any suggestions will be happily accepted.  I like being someone who exercises constantly, for enjoyment, and who isn’t interested in competition.  And in so-being, I’m not an athlete.

I think coming up with this term will be a positive evolutionary step for our language.  Not that competition is a bad thing when practiced mindfully and in moderation, but that we can take steps to grow our language into one which includes more labels for non-striving behavior – more options for just-being.



  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the word Practice lately — what that means in yoga, and in other ways one lives one’s life. The idea that the goal isn’t in a level of achievement, but in the act of doing– that that’s where the benefit lies.

    So I followed your lead and looked up Practice in the dictionary and got a bunch of results that included the word “exercise”, as in “to exercise or pursue as a profession, art, or occupation: to practice law,” or “to exercise oneself by repeated performance in order to acquire skill: to practice at shooting,” which I thought was interesting.

    So as such, I’d like to put forward a new meaning for the word Practitioner to expand it past the meaning of folks who tend to people’s medical needs. Why can’t I be a Practitioner of my own health and well-being?

  2. “Awesom-aton” comes to mind as an option.

    However, as one of the many who have called you “athlete” recently, I stand by it as an appropriate title. In the realm of fitness (and in life) we are all competing with ourselves on some level. When part of you says “Nope. That’s it. I’m done,” the inner athlete says “One more mile or one more repetition or one more minute in this pose.” When part of you says “Not today,” the inner athlete says “come on. You know you’ll feel better once you’re out there. Get out there!” Not unlike the tension between mindfulness and unfocused thought, one decision and its resulting action is always competing with another. The critical foundation to this form of competition must be compassion for oneself. Whether we decide to “got that extra mile” or opt to finish at that moment, we are still “awesomatons” and need to recognize that first and foremost. Just around the corner of our minds is another competition waiting for our participation.

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