Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The adverbial flip turn

Since I cannot have another workout today, I will indulge myself in a frivolous post...

A few weeks ago at Monday-night swimming, I shared the lane with a guy who has relatively recently--i.e. perhaps in the past six months--acquired a fully functional flip turn, after many years of swimming.

(I heard the story afterwards from the women in the locker-room--it was a proud accomplishment that the guy had presented this spring to our late lamented much-loved swimming teacher when he visited him in hospital--I believe the swimming teacher rolled his eyes and said that he could have been doing 'em all along!)

These women certainly (affectionately, but still...) felt that this fellow has been gloating over his flip turns, and I could not exactly differ. If I had to come up with an adverb to describe the style of his flip turn, I would say he turned smugly.

How is it possible that a motion underwater could be so strongly characterized by an adverb?!?

And then I thought about other kinds of flip turn that one might be likely to see. (Now I feel like I'm channeling one of the eighteenth-century novels I've been teaching recently--OK, I'm going to open the Shandean vein...)

AN ANATOMY OF THE FLIP TURN. Viz., the manner in which this underwater maneuver may be conducted....






But I am especially interested in the attachment of an emotional affect, as it were, to the turn. I cannot imagine an angry flip turn, but I can imagine an irritable one. I can imagine flip turns triumphant, joyful, doleful or magnificent, also pitiful (hmmm, I have done a few of those myself, or floundering/incompetent is more like it). But here we're coming away from style and more towards basic questions of competence, which is not interesting in this verbal sense.

Other plausible possibilities: arrogant, modest, heedless, self-possessed, extravagant, furious.

Nigh-inconceivable possibilities: tumultuous, devastated, defeated (though possibly if we had seen the swimmer lose a heat and then do cooldown laps, we might interpret a self-contained turn as a defeated turn).

So what is the constraint? Is the nature of the movement in swimming, i.e. that we cannot really be abrupt or angry underwater in any particularly legible way? Or is the flip turn simply categorizable as part of a family of movements--like, say, waving one's arm in the air--that are constrained to be described with a certain pool of adjectives because of the limits on legibility of bodily motion more generally? Have I missed out obvious possible categories of emotional affect?

And how long a clip of the turn would one need in order to assess affect? Is it mostly the going-in and coming-out parts of the turn that are expressive, or could a very brief clip of the person just coming off the wall be similarly evocative? Would the assessments be impossibly subjective, or would they fall into patterns as assessments of facial expressions do?

(Getting a decent flip turn is one of my winter goals, but clearly I prefer thinking about them to actually doing them, arghhhh!)


Becca said...

But what about breeding? Can one breed a flip turn? Can a flip turn be polite? And to what end? I sense The Poetics of Swimming in your future.

Brent Buckner said...

Angry flip turns... I've seen 'em!

Unknown said...

To answer Becca's question, yes, a flip turn can be polite (miminal force and splash when others are standing at the lane end). Like Brent, I'd say the angry ones show, as do the arrogant and haughty ones. You can certainly feel joyful turns, but I don't know if you can see them.

But I do believe you need the entry and flip portion more than the exit to assess the emotionality of the turn.

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