So Pitted!

Brendan Leonard’s “The Unlikely Origins of Outdoor Slang” is not only a fun read, it’s based on actual evidence, which is refreshing in any piece on language in a popular periodical (in this case Outside). Leonard is up on recent discoveries, correctly pointing out in his opening paragraph that “dude” “started with, believe it or not, Yankee Doodle Dandy, then was adopted by cowboys and dude ranches, then surfers, and now everyone else” (see this 2013 LH post). He continues: “The adventure lexicon is full of words like that, whether they originated in the 1800s or in the minds of the Wu-Tang Clan. Here are 10 important ones.” They range from “gnarly,” known even to this indoors type, to “sandbag” (“the act of grading a rock climb easier than it actually is”), which was new to me. As was “pitted”:

A surfing term describing when a surfer gets barreled, or rides the hollow center of a breaking wave. Made virally famous (but not invented) by Micah Peasley, the surfer who was interviewed in 2002 on a morning news show in a clip that later went viral, forever dubbing Peasley the “So Pitted Guy.” As Peasley so eloquently put, “Oh, brah, it’s just like … dude, you get the best barrels ever, dude. It’s just like, you pull in and you just get spit right out ’em. You just drop in, smack the lip … waapah! Drop down … swoopah! And then after that you just drop in, ride the barrel and get pitted, so pitted, like that.”

Waapah! Swoopah! Thanks, Eric!


  1. I knew of sandbag – in a more general sense – from Harry Turtledove, who uses the word enough I eventually looked it up in that context.

    My favorite, not listed, is “chossy” – an area with a lot of loose rock, dangerous to climb on. Apparently, the etymology is via a jocular spelling pronunciation of “chaos”. I’ve spent months of my fairly sedentary life trying to work that word into conversation.

  2. George Grady says

    “Sandbagging” is a term commonly used in poker to mean acting as if your is much worse than it actually is (the opposite of a “bluff”, where you act as if your hand is much better than it actually is). It goes back to at least Oswald Jacoby’s “On Poker” from 1940. It’s spread to many sporting contexts since then, with essentially the same meaning. There was a big scandal at the London Olympics because of sandbagging in the badminton events.

  3. I understood sandbagging to come from Prohibition bootlegger slang, and from there into stock car racing. Bootleggers fooled agents watching them by driving apparently flat-out, with no booze on board but sandbags in the trunk. Dropping the sandbags they could then go much faster than the agents expected and get to secret locations. That’s a rough explanation but I think it’s about right, and long predates widespread surfing culture.

  4. Sandbagging is used in George’s sense in more contexts. At Yahoo (and I’m assuming Marissa Mayer brought it from Google), sandbagging is declaring too easy goals for the quarter/year (as if placing sand bags on your performance rating in case things fail unexpectedly), making your achievement rate very high. This is penalized/shamed.

  5. ‘gaper’ for a neophyte goes back further than the 90s.. we were using it in the 70s in South Africa.
    A ‘gaper pad’ was a blue foam pad for sleeping on the ground. Real Mountaineers slept on the bare ground or rock, ‘gapers’ used the foam pads. ‘Gapers’ wandered around in open-mouthed wonderment at the landscape, etc. This usage wasn’t known in NC backpacking/mountaineering circles during the 90s. I didn’t hear the term again until this century, in skiing parlance. The blue foam pads showed up in the 70s if memory serves, which gives an earliest possible date at least.

    Best I can do for a citation is a book published in 2003,

    ‘sandbagging’ is also common in endurance sports, meaning to deliberately under-perform in minor competitions or training, in order to surprise the competition in the goal race. I’m fairly sure this and the other meanings mentioned here pre-date the climbing usage, an interesting question.

  6. Robert V Hutchinson says

    Given how many other terms it’s borrowed from poker, I’m sure that’s also how “sandbagging” entered Magic: the Gathering slang, but strangely, there it specifically means to not play a card even though one could. The two most common cases:

    Sandbagging a land card late in the game, to make one’s opponent believe you might be holding a useful spell instead, and

    Sandbagging a creature card when one is already handily winning the creature war on the battlefield, so as to have insurance against a “destroy all creatures” effect.

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