Thursday 18 August 2011

Playing the Track and Field

We may not be aware of it but we all know a bit of Greek. ‘Marathon’, for instance, means ‘snickers’. And we know that any word ending in ‘thlon’ means something like ‘event’. Biathlon, decathlon, pentathlon, triathlon – all multiple sports events. So, if we are in Greece and we want to invite people to a social gathering we might baulk at trying to communicate, bridging the language barrier.
‘We’re holding a little event’, we would start off shouting slowly in English, perhaps trying out a bit of pidgin sign language.
‘Eh?’ they say.
‘A thlon’ you say hopefully. ‘We’re thinking of having a thlon’.
‘Thlon, thlon’ they say, turning to each other joyfully, the penny dropping (or at time of writing, the Euro cent dropping, as it is not yet known in the present financial meltdown whether Greece will revert to their previous currency, the drachma. If it does the couple mentioned will realise in terms of the lepton dropping (100 lepta = 1 drachma)). (CLICK ON 'Read more' LINK, BELOW)

The decathlon is a competition involving ‘deca’ or ten events; the pentathlon, ‘penta’ or five events. But it’s not clear how it was agreed which events would constitute those multi-events. Pentathlon is made up of posh peoples’ events like equestrian because they have stables (when did you last see someone saddling up in a council stables?); shooting, because they used to kill each other with pistols wearing big wigs early in the morning; and cross-country running to quickly check in a far-flung field that the squire was properly supervising the dry stone walling. The triathlon involves swimming, running and cycling. Do you have to apply to the Olympic Committee if you’ve thought up a new thlon?
‘What about the octothlon? Eight, events, right? ‘Octo’ meaning eight, yeah? Got me so far? So you’ve got all the events in the decathlon, throw in let’s say tiddlywinks for the hammer, minus a couple say if anybody wants to go home early.’
‘Okay. Anything else?’
‘How about the sextathlon? ‘Sexta’ meaning six.’
‘No, I think prudish people will think it has some link to sexual athletics. What are the events? Convince me.’
‘Okay, no heavy petting though?’
‘No, no, strictly above board. Then there’s running.’
‘And that doesn’t involve running after chubby people? What’s it called chubby chasing?’
‘No. We’ve got fencing and cycling – nothing to do with anything menstrual.’
‘Very good. Sounds like our kind of thlon. What’s the final event?’  

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