A Cynical Devil’s Dictionary of (Open Water) Swimming Words and Terms

In the early twentieth century, American satirist Ambrose Bierce collected his weekly newspaper columns into a book which he intended to call a Cynic’s Dictionary. His repeated characterisation as a devil by various US politicians of the day led to its publication under the title of Devil’s Dictionary.

I have neither the wit not skill of Bierce, but I thought it would be fun to devise a brief Cynical Devil’s Swimming Dictionary. It so transpired, such that I continue to add to it occasionally.


Anti-fog: The biggest lie told by the swimming industry, because they can’t charge you to use your own spit.Anti-fog goggles

Butterfly: English Channel butterfly swimmer Vicki Keith & Sylvain Estadieu are nut-cases. More importantly, a type of post-swim cupcake. Mmm, cake.

Bioprene: The next big thing in celebrity diets. Just you wait. Sunday supplements and Horizon specials, here we come.

Bloating: A Channel Swimmer’s entirely-physiological process of becoming more like a whale from prolonged immersion in salt water. Nothing to do with cake.

Cake: See Butterfly.

Carbs: Cake in another form. Sometimes chocolate. Or just cake, what the hell. Mmm, cake.

Catch: The nonsensical idea that swimmers grab onto and hold and pull the water, under water, with their hands, in order to move forward. Clearly they move by urinating prodigiously behind themselves. Or open water swimmers anyway.

Costume: Swimsuits, Cossies, Bathers, Budgies, Banana Hammocks, Speedos, Togs, Swimmers and “middle-aged men shouldn’t be allowed to wear those in public” are all various terms for wisps of artificial fabric swimming apparel that are changed and cleaned less often than a hobo’s underwear but cost more per gram than real fur.

Channel: A body of water between Stupid and Broke.

Channel swimmers: A cult or a club. Or both.

Cold: No. No, it’s not, you baby. What are you, a pool swimmer? Get in.

Fist pump kid meme pic

Get in!

Copper Coast: My paradise. My playground. Bloody cold. Full of bloody jellyfish. Few swimmers. Applications to swim must come through this office.

Curglaff: Courtesy of Iron Mike’s swimming blog. The shock felt when one suddenly plunges into cold water.

Depth: It’s not under me, it’s not under me. It’s not under me.

Diana Nyad: See Marathon Swimmer.

Dover: Why so many people swim away from England.

DNF: Did Not Finish. See also Diana Nyad.

Ear Plugs: A aural insert used to protect the ears from exostosis and allow you to not hear your partner when she tells you that you only have 30 minutes if you want to get to the shops on time.

England: More people try to swim away from it than anywhere else in the world. See Dover.Furious Bob

Etiquette: A guiding set of normative guidelines devised over time by the global swimming community to terrorise elderly ladies.

France: Bloody hell. I suppose it could be worse. It could be Belgium. Or England again. I gave up my two-way attempt because I didn’t want to swim to Dover. Two-way attempt? Hey, if you ever have to swim from France for an hour to get back to your pilot, you too can reasonably claim it was a two-way attempt.

Feeds: The technical description of the vast quantities of infant food open water swimmers stuff into their gaping never-satiated mouths, like huge baby birds.

Falls into the category of Fish.

Falls into the category of Fish.


Fish: The Men in the Grey Suits. The Landlord. Does not include any other fish.

Food: Why we swim.

Fraud: See Diana Nyad.

Goggles: When asked the first time what is best in life Conan The Barbarian said: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. And new goggles. I love new googles.” That’s a Hollywood Fact.

Grease: The best stuff is made from baby dolphin juice. I can hook you up. Call me.

Granny Stroke: How you got back to your pilot boat. You know you did.

Imagination and Intelligence: Lack of. Why marathon swimmers keep swimming. How marathon swimmers keep swimming. Really, we’re pretty dumb. Ted Erikson said so and he’d know.

Ireland: Home of swimming Gods and Goddesses, Ocean Giants and Sea Conquerors, a coastal cold water heaven. And a lone swimmer.

Jellyfish: Boom. Right in the kisser! Who says the little bastards have no brains?

Kick: This is how you stop triathletes trying to pass you. In the head, for best effect. I do not condone this. On a completely and utterly unrelated note, triathletes can’t tell one skin swimmer from another, we all look alike to them. So if you accidentally kicked one in the head, that would have nothing to do with me and you probably wouldn’t get caught.

Lakes: Old-timey version of pools. No chlorine but you do get the urine and dilute cowshit for free.

Lengths: Not as commonly thought, a  pool measurement, but in multiple figures is the real distance in body lengths between a swimmer who tells their wife/husband they came third in a race, and actual third place. Cannot be a fraction.

Marathon swimmer: Not Diana Nyad.

Marathon swimming: It’s a dumb thing.

NST: Non-Shivering Thermogenesis. This is the technical description of the time just before  male cold water swimmer’s testicles become safely ensconced within their bodies.

Nude: Ned Denison’s scary predilection for swimming without a swimsuit is never mentioned in his IMSHOF induction.

Ocean: Home. See Water. Also sea water. Free.

Observers: Hauled-out crusty old sea dogs. Bring your own food. Lock up your daughters.

Open Water Swimmers: the very zenith nadir of the swimming world. Above Below Tadpole Age Groupers.

Pilot: Someone you pay a lot of money to insult you, while you swim, just at the point when you already feel most stupid.

Pool: A box of urine and chlorine. Pay to use.

Propellor: Anyone who worries a lot about Fish hasn’t been too close for comfort to a moving propeller. Aka The Spinning Blades of Sharp Cutting Pain and Dismemberment.

Qualification: The complex and lengthy process of incorrectly and fraudulently  filling out multiple forms and questionnaires, forging signatures and lying about swim times in order to swim somewhere stupid so that next time, you won’t have to write the entire work of fiction from scratch.

Recovery: That morning you stayed in bed and still regretted it. The day you went swimming … and still regretted it.

Reefs: If you are racing, don’t get between us and them. See also Kick.

Swimming: A bad metaphor for life. A good substitute for life.

Sharks: The Landlord. The Men In Grey Suits. Bitey. Grey. Also gray. See Fish.

Swedes: Either English Channel butterfly nut-case Sylvain Estadieu’s wife, Great Greta, or a type of elitist swim goggle. Depending on your geographical location and preference. We all know Sylvain’s preference, right? Right? Right?

Swugly: “Swimming yourself ugly”, the usual post-swim appearance of Channel swimmers. See Bloating. Term courtesy of Cae Tolman.

Technique: It’s a little-known fact that before Sisyphus was condemned to roll a stone uphill for eternity, he was first put to perfecting his front crawl swim technique, but it deemed too cruel a punishment. Any swimmer left to their own devices will rapidly devolve to the worst technique possible, except open water swimmers, who have none to begin with.

Tides: Often treated a fairy tale  by swimmers who swim on lakes. The variability in time, height  and location prove God is a woman. Or a man. I dunno, I’m no theologian or misogynist.

Under the boat: Don’t go there. I’ve been. It’s not nice.

Viking Princess: Reg Brickell’s Channel boat. You ain’t crewed till you crewed on Viking Princess. Unless, you know, you have crewed.

Water: Are you frequently damp? That’d be the water. You’ll find it’s wet.

Wildlife:  Technical swimmer’s collective noun for all things that are Not Jellyfish and Not Sharks.

X-Men: A supposed superhero team which has no swimmers. You know the rest of the world makes fun of Aquaman? That because they all can’t swim. Aquaman would kick Wolverine’s ass in the water. And I doubt that wheelchair of Professor X is much good as a pull-buoy. Also, begins with X. You try it if you are so smart.

Youghal: A coastal town in Ireland that begins with a Y.  Goddamn it it’s late!

Zip-line: Every open water swimmers’ favourite  race technique, that they pretend to utterly deplore and sworn they’ve never used. I’ve myself have certainly never used it. Ever. In unrelated advice, grease your ankles.


Related (humour) links:

Open Water Swimmer’s Fashion & Beauty Tips. (loneswimmer.com).

Two Distance Swimmers meet. (loneswimmer.com)

Swimming Taxonomy (loneswimmer.com)


Introducing a precise open water  temperature scale (loneswimmer.com)

19 thoughts on “A Cynical Devil’s Dictionary of (Open Water) Swimming Words and Terms

  1. This very well may be my favorite post of yours. I peed myself reading it. Something that I’ve found is easier to do sitting in my office chair than when I’m swimming in a 13C lake.


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  3. “Technique: It’s a little-known fact that before Atlas was condemned to roll a stone uphill for eternity”

    Sisyphus. 🙂 (I actually didn’t catch it either, but my husband the fantasy artist did a painting of the character and was very adamant when I read this to him)


    • Thanks Noel, that of course correct and if you;d asked me I’d have known offhand, so I don’t know why I wrote Atlas. Probably some crossover in a draft I made. Thanks for the correction.


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  7. I’m not entirely sure its funny but I’m currently in recovery mode and unable to find my protein supplements so it may be a chemical imbalance. At least I podium-ed on the post awards and am looking forward to improvement on the next ocean swim blog


  8. Nude? Darn I missed that when Ned was out swimming with us. Probably because he is so much faster than me…all just a beige blur.
    This is just BRILLIANT!!! Thanks for the laughs!!!


    • You know Lynn,

      a) you are lucky, it’s a sight that can’t be unseen, and

      b) given the complete lack of comment before you, before I thought I’d completely screwed up and this just wasn’t funny. Now I know at least one person finds it funny.


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