Our Relationship With Words...

It’s a golden sunshiney, autumn day in North Yorkshire, the UK, the beginning of grit stone season. Yorkshire climbers from all walks of life are emerging from cars and vans, and students are making their way up from the nearby train station; fingers strengthened and skin prepped, everyone is excited to get their hands on some sandpaper, skin shredding gritstone. Draining the last dregs of caffeine from their travel mugs, they swing bouldering mats onto their backs and proceed up the stepping stones towards the crag. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the rock might still be wet from the overnight dampness, but this crag is some sort of mystical place, it’s almost always dry here. 
“Alright then, where should we start?” 
“Should we just start on something easy to warm up?” 
Not that long ago, hearing this interaction would have triggered a big sigh to escape me. Nowadays, I’m so used to it that I just ignore it, because if I get annoyed every time I overhear it, which is usually done without malice or ill-intention, I’ll just become exhausted and never want to climb. 
“Easy.” Okay, but easy for who? That easy problem might be one I’ve never sent before. I’m no longer insecure about the grade that I climb at, but in the past this would have knocked my confidence and even led me to question whether I should really be climbing at a crag where I couldn’t even send the “easy” problems. 
I’ve discussed this issue with friends multiple times, from beginner climbers, to climbing wall owners. The use of language in our little world is unique to climbing culture, we have all sorts of extensive jargon but we also have quite limited vocabulary for matters that are actually quite nuanced, subjective and at times complex. Describing a boulder problem or route with limited words is potentially problematic, but I get it, it’s faster to speak that way. There’s also the added layer of unspoken meaning, a silent sense or agreement that there is more behind what’s being said - but when we don’t actually verbalize what we mean, it’s up for interpretation. Ed (Beta Monkeys) and I exchanged ideas on this. Ed raised the important point that a huge factor we need to consider is who we are talking to. You may be climbing in a group where that understanding of unspoken meaning is taken for granted and accepted, but others may have a different understanding. Meaning doesn’t always translate in the way that it is intended to different groups or individuals. This is connected to cultural or subcultural identities and complexities and how an individual or group sits within that culture. Somebody who has been climbing for 20 years will have a stronger grasp on the jargon and the nuances of climbing language, whereas somebody who has been climbing for two weeks may not understand the terminology and its meaning within the context of climbing specifically.
If you’ve been active in the climbing community for a while, none of this will be new to you. Yet, we forget that grading is subjective, and I strongly believe that anatomical differences between individuals may change the actual difficulty of a climb. Earlier this year I was climbing at an indoor centre, I was on a route and I could not reach the next hand hold using the available footholds. I also couldn’t really smear very well because there wasn’t anything positive to balance from. So the grade difficulty shot up. My husband Ant is a 6 ft man with a positive ape-index and he could reach the next handhold, therefore for him, the route was roughly the grade it has been assigned by the setter but for me? Absolutely no chance, it was much harder. The grade is subjective to the person who sets it. 
Perhaps this is a topic for another post, but some climbing walls are not assigning grades to routes and problems. I find this really interesting and I think I have grown to like this way of doing things. Although I realise it’s a point of contention - and I’d like to hear your thoughts, (or if you wanted to write a post that would be awesome). However, one issue is that I repeatedly hear an increased use of the term “easy” associated generally with lower level grade style problems. When climbers say “this one is easy” - what they really mean is, “this felt easy for me.” It’s a subtle difference but the meaning is changed. Ed’s pet peeve is the use of the word “just” - “just get your foot up to that hold,” “just crimp harder” - just suggests that this movement is minor, it shouldn’t be an effort - for some folks, they’ll struggle to “just” get their foot up, and not being able to may really knock their confidence if their inability to get their foot up is undermined by the word “just”. Giving a little bit more thought to how we use language has the potential to make climbing environments and communities more welcoming and inclusive spaces. Ideas for how we use slightly different language to describe problems include: 
“This boulder has some friendlier problems on” 
“This route is more accessible for a beginner/newer climber” 
“I found this problem was relatively easy for me, because I usually climb at X grade and I think it suited my style” 
“This one is okay if you have a big reach” 
Don’t get me wrong, this sort of language is used by many climbers already - but I think sometimes it’s good to be reminded. An increased awareness is a huge step forward and like Ed rightly pointed out, being aware of who we are talking to and how we are talking to them is important to developing a more inclusive climbing culture and community. If we can do anything to make more people feel comfortable and welcome in climbing environments and spaces, is that not an easy win? Why wouldn’t you endeavor to be kinder and more thoughtful. Have fun, be kind and climb. 
Words by Emily Ankers (she/her) 
Co-Founder and Editor of Beta Magazine 
Cartoon and Thoughts by Ed O’Grady, Beta Monkeys 
Instagram and Twitter: @betamonkeys 

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