BY ANDY ANDERSON
PHOTO BY ED MORAN
Vocabulary is important in sports. If you’ve ever been to a baseball game and watched a home run with two men on and your friend asks, “How many points are we behind now?” you know the awkwardness of which I speak. You look around and hope that no one in the stands near you has noticed. If you want to be ridiculed, ask someone at a hockey game “Which quarter are we in?” And most egregious of all, what about someone on the water who yells “Stop rowing!”
When I was in my first year of coxing, I worked hard to learn the special commands and words that I needed to use on the Connecticut River. My coach explained that every command has three parts–the information, the preparation, and the action. So a coxswain says, “All eight on the paddle from the catch, ready, row!” “Bow pair drop out, in two, one, TWO!” Coxswain who skip a step will quickly find themselves unpopular. There is, of course, one exception–“Way enough!” It never has a preamble.
Those of us who rowed on teams are justifiably proud of the vocabulary we learned way back when. One of the keys to belonging to a tribe is knowing its language. When I’m around rowing people, “Way enough” slides out of my mouth in all kinds of situations: “I don’t need that much gin in my G&T”; “You can stop badmouthing our competitors”; “Easy on loading up the bacon on my cheeseburger.”
But what about when we long-timers encounter people new to the sport? People who say “Stop!” or talk about their “left oar” or “the end of the stroke?” It’s hard not to wince in lexicological pain, but good manners demand that we don’t jump down that newcomer’s throat. So we say, “Oh, you mean starboard?” (pronounced star-berd) and say “cox-in,” not rhyming it with wayne. Be kind; they will catch on.
Then there are those unfortunate souls who continue to talk about the “paddles” they use, even after you have offered, “Can I carry your oars down for you?” That may be an unforgivable sin. I like to get a bit didactic and point out that in rowing “paddle” is strictly a verb. I tell them that one summer at the Olympic Training Center the rowers were sharing space on and off the water with kayakers. They were super bummed out when they found out that for us a “paddle” is a very light workout, with no effort.
I may smile inwardly when a friend talks about “the glide” of the stroke, but mostly I’m happy that this new rower has found the pleasure and the beauty of our sport. Would I recommend taking a look at a glossary of rowing terms? Of course I would. The language of rowing is economical and logical. It is tailored to help us to communicate effectively. So the next time a new sculler at your club says, “Are we taking out a one or a two?” don’t jump down the tyro’s throat. Reply, “a double, and you are in the bow.” Be charitable. Welcome newcomers into rowing. Be like my summer boat club friend Ken who makes it a mission to get everyone he meets to try rowing.