Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally


Posted by Neal on February 28, 2005

Since I wrote about Doug’s first experience with roller-skating, we have enrolled in some Saturday morning skating lessons at that skating rink. This past Saturday was our second lesson. At the end, as we debriefed about what we’d learned in our respective lessons, Doug said that he and a couple of friends in the class had done a lot of moonskating. My instructor hadn’t told us anything about moonskating, so I asked Doug what it was. Turns out moonskating is the backwards skating you sometimes wind up doing when you’re trying to go forward but haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. I also found out that the term was Doug’s invention, not one he’d gotten from the instructor. But I wasn’t satisfied.

“Why do they call it moonskating?” I asked.

“You know,” Doug explained, “like moonwalking and moonrunning.”

“Oh! You mean, moonwalking like this?” I did my best moonwalk (which actually isn’t too bad if I say so myself). Doug said yes.

I didn’t remember ever showing Doug the moonwalk, so during the drive home I asked where he’d learned the word moonwalk. He told me his friend’s dad had used the term one day when they were playing with their puppy in the backyard. The puppy was running and jumping around, and at one point took a few steps backward, and the dad had said, “Hey, look, he’s doing the moonwalk!” Not being familiar with this word’s 24-year history, Doug simply interpreted moon- as a prefix indicating retrograde motion.

I was content to leave him ignorant about the origin of the word. His interpretation was more interesting, and anyway, the longer he goes before learning anything about Michael Jackson, the better. So instead I just worked on improving my understanding of Doug’s moon- prefix.

“Now, if I were just walking backwards, would that be a moonwalk?”

No, he said, it would only be a moonwalk if I were supposed to be walking forward. So the semantics was more complex than I’d realized: moon– indicated not just retrograde motion, but retrograde motion despite an intent to move forward.

“And if I were trying to swim forwards, but ended up going backwards, would that be moonswimming?”

It would. And as for moonrunning, Doug admitted he’d never actually done it (I’d’ve been curious to know the circumstances if he had!), but he’d created the word for it all the same. A fairly productive prefix, this moon-.

After that I was asking him how he’d liked having his friends at the lesson, too. He’d enjoyed it, but complained that one of the boys couldn’t keep his balance at all, and when he fell down, he’d take you with him. And furthermore, when the instructor was teaching everyone how to skate backwards, this boy was especially dangerous. He couldn’t get the skates to go backward, and kept wobbling forwards instead.

And so, Doug said, he “kept knocking everyone down with his sunskating!”


5 Responses to “Moonskating”

  1. Estel said

    Hmm, I suppose it would then be ‘moondriving’ when you’re trying to drive forward but forget to take the car out of reverse, and ‘sundriving’, when you forget to put the car into reverse when you want to go backwards.

  2. Neal said

    Hey, you’re right! I’ve moondriven several times, when I’ve been waiting to turn left, the light turns red, and I have to back out of the intersection and wait for the next green.

  3. Neal said

    …and forget to put the car back in drive, I should add. BTW, little did I know that Doug was right behind me when I wrote the last comment (he should have been in bed). I checked with him, and he verified that this would indeed be moondriving.

  4. Anonymous said

    Moonswimming. What about swimming upstream in a river where the current was too strong? Or in the ocean when the tide is going out? (Undertow)

    Would the influence of natural conditions qualify retrograde motion to be described by moon- , or does doer of the action also have to be the cause of the unintended retrograde motion?

  5. triticale said

    Would a Moon Pie ™ then be somehow similar to an upside-down cake?

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