Something I read earlier this evening started me thinking about the different words people use when referring to the cushioned rubber-soled shoes worn for athletic activities. In the past I’ve gone off on tangents about soda vs. pop vs. coke usage around the country. This time it’s footwear.
It’s obvious from the map that tennis shoes and sneakers are the most commonly used words across the country, which puts me in the minority immediately. I sometimes say “tennies” because it’s short, but to me tennies and sneakers are the plain, inexpensive canvas Keds I wore as a kid (see below). When Nike introduced their first specialized running shoes in the early ’70s — and priced them accordingly — we had, in my mind, moved onward and upward to a totally different kind of high tech shoe, designed especially for the needs of joggers and runners and certainly deserving of a name better than mere “tennis shoes” or “sneakers.” These new fangled shoes had shock absorption, traction, heel lift, arch support, corrections for pronation or supination. “Tennies” they were not.
Perhaps because I was into jogging at the time, or because it was the common usage in Oklahoma City, I called them joggers or jogging shoes. And for the most part I have ever since. And yet, like my soda/pop conundrum, I’m aware that I’m in the minority and I struggle for the right word to use to “fit in.” Athletic shoes is accurate but cumbersome. Running shoes sounds good to me, but at my age I feel funny talking about my running shoes when I haven’t run, or even jogged, for decades. And yet mere walking shoes are a specific type of athletic shoe and not the type I wear. Gym shoes sounds more like the lowly tennis shoes I used to wear than the expensive, specialized athletic shoes sold today. Besides, there are athletic shoes designed specifically for tennis, which I don’t play, just as there are for running, cross training, weight lifting, etc.
And those are just the terms I’m used to hearing. The first stop on my word search happened to be the English Language & Usage Stack Exchange. Their discussion also introduced terms from the British Isles, which only complicated the issue. They found a different map from the Harvard survey:
When the survey was conducted in the British Isles, this was the result:
Bottom line, I still can’t decide what to call these shoes. I’m likely to blurt out several names in the same sentence, which only draws attention to my indecision: “I got a new pair of joggers, er, running shoes today.”
These are the Keds/tennies I wore as a kid. We threw them in the washing machine as needed, and/or painted them with white shoe polish:
These were my first Nikes — joggers — with their innovative waffle sole:
And these are my current shoes from Saucony. I’ve tried most brands over the years but now buy either Saucony or New Balance:
So there you have it. My conundrum for the evening. Still not sure what I want to call these shoes. Often they aren’t even worn as athletic shoes anymore. Many people wear them purely for looks or leisure comfort (me!). No athleticism required or expected. Maybe that’s why they get demoted back to “tennies” or “sneakers.”
All of which leads me to ask what you call this type of shoe (and where do you live)?