Bill Casselman

Increase your English vocabulary by learning the origin of saucy sports terms associated with skiing

Ski Bunny
If a naïve skier were ignorant of the herds of hookers who infest Eurotrash ski resorts, snow-walking floozies and harlots wrapped snugly in shearling coats, tight leather pants, quilted snow jackets and heeled boots last used by SS cross-dressers, one might imagine that North America saw the first use of the term ski bunny.

But dankly would one lurk in rankest error. For the term ski bunny is a loan translation from Austrian German, Skihaserl ‘Little Ski Rabbit,’ the phrase drawn from the rabbit habit of incessant copulation compared with the coital frenzy of downy-pubed Schlampen legs akimbo on duvets in chalets amidst the chilly flanks of mountains in the Republik Österreich. And, hey, just so you know, I’m not bitter that I was only once in Kitzbühel for an international Bible reading conference.

Gorby is an insult noun for any outdoors person who is a mere tyro, a clumsy beginner perhaps at camping out. But it is used extensively among winter sports snobs too, where a gorby is a person who sucks at snowboarding. These snooty experts claim that gorby is an acronym for Guy on Rental Board. Probably not. See my etymology below.

Uppity skiers call anyone not dressed in properly expensive ski clothes a gorby. A gorby may be a skiing dimwit with no clue about what’s up either on the ski hill or at the après-ski bar. Common gorby attire at a winter resort on weekends sees a hapless, gorboid schnook clad in florescent headbands and giant sunglasses, common attire branding such a person as a yutz of the lowest rank.

True Source of the Word Gorby
The cogent origin of gorby lies, I believe, in 1950s campers’ and backpackers’ slang. G.O.R.P. is an acronym for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, a trail mix suitable for canoe nibbling and bike food packs, easily packed, and not subject to immediate spoilage.

However, when people who were practically born paddling a canoe across a small lake to a store see a tourist and canoeing neophyte set off on the same trip with thousands of dollars’ worth of yuppie camping equipment and three pounds of G.O.R.P.—to sustain them in their fifteen minute canoe paddle across the lake—then it seems natural that gorpy, later gorby, might arise as a mild put-down.

The Dictionary of American Regional English (1991) is quoted by the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition, 2001) suggesting that the verb to gorp is attested in the year 1913 meaning ‘to eat greedily’ and a later variant (?) to gawp up ‘to eat like a pig.’ But that fact does not preclude my preferred acronymic origin, and besides, the DARE mention includes no proving citation.

Nowadays G.O.R.P. is a widely dispensed acronym among mountaineers, long-distance cyclists, snowboarders, skiers and backpackers the world over. Gorp is used in German and French. One early summer morning on a mountain road outside Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites of northern Italy I heard an Italian cyclist laughingly put down a plump fellow rider as “un vero gorpone,” the gist of the delightful put-down being ‘a real trail-mix fatty.’ I hasten to add I was walking on a guided alpine tour, not riding at high altitude like those goaty dudes.

Gnar is slang among some skiers and snowboarders for the kind of snow ridden on and skied-over in extreme snowboarding or extreme skiing. It is an abbreviation of the surfers' adjective gnarly, signifying highly dangerous or extremely cool. Of course, only a, like, totally gnarly dude would kill himself skiing off a razor-sharp glacier. The adjective gnarly may derive from an earlier English verb to gnar (first attested in the 15th century!) meaning ‘to growl, to snarl.’ German has a similar verb gnarren.

Ski as a Word
Ski is a direct borrowing from Norwegian where in Old Norse skith was a length of cleft wood. There is an art to writing definitions of words to use in dictionaries. Anyone who thinks it an easy task ought to take the simplest object near them and attempt to write a brief definition. On your first try, you will surely fail. It’s tricky. Here is a definition of the word ski from the Oxford English Dictionary that, in its simple aptness, is a masterpiece: “A ski is one of a pair of long slender pieces of wood fastened to the foot and used as a snow-shoe, enabling the wearer to slide downhill with great speed.”

English has a rare cognate of Old Norse skith in the term shide meaning a plank of wood supporting an object or holding it in a useable position.

This is yet another direct borrowing from the Norwegian language where sla means ‘sloping’ and låm means ’track.’ A slalom course is a downhill ski race where the skier must follow a zigzag path between trickily placed artificial obstacles.

Schuss is a shot, a blast, a charge, in German. To ski straight downhill very fast with skis parallel is schussing.

 And now, perhaps bound in adhesive shellac to a single wide ski as fit punishment, I shall schuss out of here, before I can be apprehended by the Austrian Association for the Advancement of Whores.

Bill Casselman, February 11, 2017

Text copyright 2017 by William Gordon Casselman


At the Wording Desk