Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 20 Feb 1999 09:34:56 -0500

Speaking of Running

(from RC 279)

Much as we'd like it to be otherwise, running is a small-time sport in the United States. It's almost invisible on television and rarely escapes the fine print in newspapers. It's what we do as participants, not what we watch and read about as fans in the general media.

This isn't to say, though, that our sport has left no mark on America. You can't go anywhere in this country without seeing a runner, and you can't talk to anyone without hearing a running term.

Sports words and phrases pepper the language. Football has contributed "sack," basketball "slam dunk" and baseball "struck out," among many others.

But no sport has supplied a longer list of borrowed words than ours. That's partly because "run" has so many shades of meaning in English, and partly because running serves so well metaphorically for unrelated activities.

We say "run" when talking about other means of propulsion. "Run out to the store" usually means driving or walking there.

Compounds words abound with "run" in the starting position. Books are "runaway" best-sellers. We get the "runaround" when looking for a simple answer.

When tired, we suffer from that "rundown" feeling. Practice is a "run-through" (though runners don't practice; we "train").

Or consider the word "marathon." The daily news carries regular references to the "marathon" matches in tennis and the "marathon" bargaining sessions in labor disputes, which more accurately are "ultras."

"Olympic" isn't just a running word, but our sport is the centerpiece of those Games. The biggest event in any arena is known as the "Olympics of..." The best effort is "Olympian."

The language at large has adopted the running term "world-class" for any outstanding work. Working fast means finishing in "world-record time."

And the list runs on:

Any hard job is an "endurance test," just as a race is. Working harder than required is to "go the extra mile."

Taking a distant view is thinking "in the long run." The preliminaries are the "warmup"

To start is to be "off and running" (though the computer folks prefer "up and running"). To settle down to work is to get "up to speed."

Staying busy is being "on the run." Progressing is "making strides."

When any contest ends in a tie, it's a "dead heat" or a "photo finish." The person who brings up the rear finishes "dead last."

The leader is a "front-runner," or "pacesetter," or "rabbit." Staying on schedule is being "on pace" or "on track."

Barriers to progress are "hurdles." Bumping into an extra-high hurdle is "hitting the wall."

Pushing through the rough place is getting a "second wind." Quitting is "dropping out."

Nearing the end means you're in the "last lap." Finishing strongly is to "kick."

To finish a job is to "go the distance." To do it well is to have "a good run."

A peak effort is a "personal best." Turning a task over to the next person in line is to "pass the baton."


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