What's the problem with keeping penta?

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Maybe I'm dense, but I don't see the problem with keeping the term pentathlon for the modified competition in which shooting and running are combined into a single contest. While the modifications result in a reduction from five to four events, five sports continue to be involved. Nor is counting sports rather than events an innovation. The biathlon, which combines shooting and skiing, is a single event in which skiers stop at intervals and shoot. The term biathlon, to which, as far as I know, nobody objects, provides precedent for the interpretation of the names of such competitions as denoting the number of sports which they combine rather than the number of distinct events. There is no reason to treat this as a case in which a word's meaning has ceased to correspond to its etymology.


  1. Lazar said,

    November 28, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

    I agree; that was my interpretation as well.

  2. Yuval said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 4:43 am

    Be that as it may, it is getting "a little less penta".

  3. David Eddyshaw said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 9:14 am

    *I* object!
    Should be dyathlon!
    If this goes unchecked, people will soon be talking about bicycles, televisions and automobiles!

  4. Andreas Ammann said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 11:29 am

    In German it´s "Moderner Fünfkampf", a term that would be easier to change (into "Moderner Vierkampf"), but I don´t expect that to happen. If Wikipedia is correct, the original pentathlon in Ancient Greece was something different anyway: a combination of four track and field events that are now part of decathlon plus wrestling.

  5. Andrew said,

    November 29, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    The same is true of triathlon; a combination of, I think, swimming, running and cycling, all in one event.

  6. Five paragraphs on the pentathlon « Glossographia said,

    November 30, 2008 @ 11:12 am

    […] post, discussing the change and the inevitable cries of etymological impurity. Now Bill Poser at LL has very sensibly pointed out that since the shooting and running event is a two-event sport (thus a biathlon), three events plus […]

  7. GAC said,

    December 2, 2008 @ 12:53 am

    Indeed, it is still four sports, though the way that shooting and running are combined makes for unique challenges on both ends.

    In any case, even if a sport were totally eliminated, wouldn't we just have a similar situation to decimate? Or even better, several satirical book series continue to use the term "trilogy" after the fourth book is published (as with the Hithhiker's Guide Trilogy, also known as the Trilogy of Five Books).

  8. codeboot said,

    April 11, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    The same is true of triathlon; a combination of, I think, swimming, running and cycling, all in one event.

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