Hello, good people of the nets! It is Tuesday and in the best HLC tradition, I bring to you today’s Fun Etymology!
Today’s word is “gym”!
The gym: some weird people love it. As an academic, I find it an unsettlingly hellish mire of sweat and uncomfortable clothing where people go to voluntarily subject themselves to torture through astonishingly inventive implements. Though I’m told it’s actually good for you. Personally, I prefer a good long walk in the countryside, or, if you have them, mountains.
Oh well, no accounting for taste, I guess. Or, as Caesar used to say, “de gustibus non disputandum est”.
Speaking of classical antiquity, do you know who was REALLY into gyms? The Ancient Greeks, that’s who! In fact, they invented them!
The ideal Greek was at the same time a philosopher and a sports person, busting once and for all the myth that nerds and jocks are incompatible categories. In fact, many of the most famous Greek philosophers started their careers as sportsmen: Plato, whose real name was Aristocles, was a wrestler, and his nickname means “the broad-shouldered”; Chrysippus, one of the founders of the Stoic school, was a long-distance runner; and Eratosthenes, the man who first measured the size of the Earth, was a gymnast.
Our modern word “gym” is the abbreviation of the word “gymnasium”, which comes from the Ancient Greek “gymnasion”, from the verb “gymnazein”, literally “to train naked”, from the word “gymnos”, “naked”.
This reflects the attitude the Ancient Greeks had towards physical exercise, where clothing was seen as an impediment and a shameful covering of the athlete’s body.
Thank Zeus that’s not the case in modern gyms anymore!