Thursday, October 23, 2008

stabilizers / training wheels

It's been a killer week work-wise, so here's a very short post.

Flatlander wrote to ask:
I was watching “Supernanny” the other day (it’s voyeurism, I know) and she made reference to removing the “stabilizers” from a child’s bicycle, meaning the “training wheels”. Is this a common BrE term or just a one-off?
It's not a one-off--one often hears stabilizers (and often reads stabilisers) for these things in BrE. Looking it up on the web, I've also found it on American sites, but particularly where training wheels would not be an appropriate term--for example wheels for balance-impaired adult cyclists for whom training wheels would be a misnomer.

Training wheels doesn't seem to be in the OED, so I'm having a hard time finding out if it was originally AmE. It is used currently in BrE (14,100 hits on UK Google), but I get the feeling that (a) stabilizers is the more usual way to refer to the things on children's bicycles, and (b) training wheels is more likely to be used metaphorically. Training wheels is a more transparent metaphor than stabilizers is, since the word stabilizer is pretty ambiguous--can refer to a food additive, something to keep dye from running, parts of various types of vehicle/craft, etc. For example, a headline from the Times Higher Education Supplement (14 Feb 2003) reads:

Diversity bike wobbles as the training wheels come off

For more on z versus s in BrE spelling, see back here.
For more on bicycles, see this one.

26 comments:

Jade said...

I definitely had stabiliSers when I was learning to ride a bike. I think it would probably take me a moment to work out what someone meant if they called them training wheels. (and there's nothing better than a bit of Supernanny to make you feel smug... and I don't even have children)

lynneguist said...

I think it's especially people without children who get to feel smug when watching Supernanny!

Angie said...

As the owner of a bicycle shop (in Australia) I've only ever used the term "training wheels", as do the suppliers from which we buy them. It's also what I've always known them since childhood.

A friend's twin boys kept theirs on long after they needed them, in order to tear around sharp corners at a hair-raising speed!

Sophie Sofasaurus said...

They were always "stabilisers", never "training wheels" when I grew up (Surrey, UK, 1970s).

I think we could do with a word or phrase for the hold-the-saddle-and-run-behind technique used by Dads all over the world immediately after the stabilisers are removed...

David_P said...

Always Stabilisers for me too when growing up (in Berkshire in the 70s).

itinerantlondoner said...

I don't think I've ever heard the term "training wheels" before in the UK, which makes me surprised about that THES headline, and would have had to think for a minute before working out what it meant.

Kirsty said...

I agree with many of the comments above. Growing up in Glasgow in the 80s it was always 'stabilisers'. Have never heard 'training wheels' in the UK before either.

Cameron said...

Just to add my ha'p'orth Or however that's spelt) to the growing chorus, I grew up in Glasgow too, like Kirsty, more seventies than eighties, and I also had to think for a moment after opening this post to work out what "training wheels" were. And I would NEVER spell stabilisers with a zed.

dunce said...

Long ago I briefly worked in a bicycle shop in Indiana, where I was informed that "stabilizers" is the technical term for "training wheels", but it should only be used when a child thinks they are too old for training wheels but the parent still wants to buy them anyway. Otherwise it was strictly "training wheels" all the way.

Roy S said...

I learned to ride a bike in New England, USA, and the thingies that kept me upright were "training wheels". This was the mid 1950s, so the usage over here goes back at least that far.

Graham said...

Another Brit growing up in the 80s - never heard 'training wheels', always 'stabilisers'.

And, interestingly, the THE article is about the University of California, with the term 'training wheels' used in a quote from an American. This quote seems to have inspired the headline to extend the commonplace 'wheels coming off the bike' metaphor.

Doug Sundseth said...

For me (AmE), a "stabilizer", often called a "stab", is either horizontal or vertical and is a part of the empennage of an airplane. The vertical stab supports the rudder and the horizontal stab supports the elevator.

Those things on bikes are always training wheels.

mollymooly said...

First heard "training wheels" in the Simpsons episode with Michael Jackson, c.1991. All together, now:

"The training wheels come off your bike / You start to notice boys you like.."

Psychosplodge said...

(English English)Its always been stablisers as far as i know, only know what a training wheel is from too many american programs ont' telly...

dbanoff said...

According to Google Maps, my home is 6.6 miles by road from Boalt Hall, the subject of the THE article. And, I agree with the usage of training wheels rather than stabilizers for children's bicycles. Like Doug, if I heard "stabilizers" without the context, I would think of airplanes.

Jo said...

Growing up in the UK in the sixties they were always stabilisers. If I heard training wheels I'd assume it was something to do with roller skates or skateboards. After all they are not there to train you how to ride a bike, they are there to keep you stable while you are doing so.

Anonymous said...

@jo: "After all they are not there to train you how to ride a bike, they are there to keep you stable while you are doing so."

There are other uses of "training" in U.S. English. I'm not sure if they're extensions of trainining wheels, or if they developed in parallel. Two that come to mind are "training pants," used by babies as part of their transition from diapers/nappies; and "training bras," used by young girls in puberty. If you insist that the noun of the training phrase teaches something, both those examples are VERY odd. -h

ros said...

Two that come to mind are "training pants," used by babies as part of their transition from diapers/nappies; and "training bras," used by young girls in puberty. If you insist that the noun of the training phrase teaches something, both those examples are VERY odd.

Which is why we don't use them in the UK. I remember being completely baffled when someone in a Judy Blume book got her first 'training bra'. I couldn't imagine what she thought she was training her breasts to do.

Jo said...

I remember being completely baffled when someone in a Judy Blume book got her first 'training bra'. I couldn't imagine what she thought she was training her breasts to do.

I naively assumed an American training bra was some sort of sports bra - a bra to go training in.

Trinovante39 said...

>I couldn't imagine what she thought she was training her breasts to do.<

I offer one example of the inverse, in which the 'training' enigma crops up in BrE. Last time I returned to the UK, in 1989, I was surprised to learn that sneakers are called trainers. So, I can't imagine what they think they're training their feet to do.

Jo said...

Last time I returned to the UK, in 1989, I was surprised to learn that sneakers are called trainers. So, I can't imagine what they think they're training their feet to do.

That's because they are associated with training for sport. Trainers - shoes for training. the use of training in relation to sport has moved away from learning and towards practicing.

Anonymous said...

"I couldn't imagine what she thought she was training her breasts to do."

Push ups.

Ginger Yellow said...

Incidentally, the term you were looking for in that piece about bikes on trains was "train operating company".

Robbie said...

Two that come to mind are "training pants," used by babies as part of their transition from diapers/nappies; and "training bras," used by young girls in puberty. If you insist that the noun of the training phrase teaches something, both those examples are VERY odd.

Nothing odd at all about "training pants" -- they're used during potty/toilet training. I gather that they do actively help in the process by being more absorbent than normal underwear (in case of accidents), but less absorbent than nappies so that they're uncomfortable when wet (as a deterrent).

"Training bra" is a bit odder, but still not very strange. The idea is that the just-pubescent girl is being made familiar with ("trained to") the feel of wearing a bra and the habit of putting one on every day.

For those fortunate enough not to have gone through that phase, a training bra is a sort of bra-shaped elasticated vest. You're supposed to get resigned to the feel of having something fitted tightly around the breast area, a year or two before you actually have anything that needs support.

Robbie said...

Actually, I think the headline in the blog ("Diversity bike wobbles as the training wheels come off") is using the phrase "training wheels" very consciously as a pun.

"The wheels have come off" = the project has collapsed, it's a failure.

Sophie Sofasaurus said...

From today's Times, Keynes caught in the middle as the stabilisers come off:
"I thought that stabilisers belonged on bicycles, but I now find that Keynes got their first and that, in his multiplier model, they can be summed up as: multiplier = 1/(1- [ MPC(1- T) - MPI])".
So now you know!