Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Biking" Versus "Cycling"

Pseudo-interesting: Here:

"After reading the headline for yesterday's Legal Lad podcast--"What Happens if You Drink and Bike?"--MZMI wrote in suggesting quite strongly that "bike" cannot be a verb because "Bike is short for bicycle. Bicycle means a contraption with two wheels. "Bi", in anything, means two of something . . . The action of the bicycle is cycling NOT biking. One cycles, one does NOT bike. Biking is a meaningless word. Cycling means going somewhere using a bicycle (or tricycle!)."

Although MZMI's logic is flawless, English isn't always a logical language. "Bike" has been used as an intransitive verb since the late 1800s. In fact, the first known reference provided by the Oxford English Dictionary is an 1883 sentence about drinking and biking: "We very modestly declined, informing them that 'biking' and drinking are inconsistent."

As you can see, in this instance "biking" is enclosed in quotation marks, probably indicating that it was a new word or slang at the time; but the quotation marks had disappeared by 1897.

The first reference showing "bike" as an abbreviation for "bicycle" is from 1882, just one year before it's first use as a verb, so it seems that the use of "bike" as a noun and a verb arose at or near the same time. Both are now fully standard."


I still tend to think that cyclists ride bikes and bikers ride motorcycles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw headlines: "Cyclist killed at Dam" the other day & it was a biker not a cyclist. Not that their lives are worth less, just inconsistent use in Florence paper.