Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Biker By Any Other Name...

Shakespeare once wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Would a biker smell just the same?

Considering the recent talk in motorcycle media about Oxford Dictionary adjusting its definition of "biker", it's interesting to read people's take on the connotation.

Previous definition...

"a motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang"

New definition...

"a motorcyclist, especially one who is a member of a gang, or group."

With a stroke of a few keys, the number of bikers in the world increased ten-fold.

So does anyone put credibility into the hands of Oxford Dictionary or Merriam-Webster Dictionary?

How many times have you heard someone say, "It's a real word, it's in the dictionary"?

As if somehow, a group of uptight lexiconians in wool suits and tobacco pipes are sipping tea and nibbling on crumpets can decide how each of us as individuals will be classified in social rankings.

Does a word have to be in the dictionary before we're allowed to use it?

Labels only serve to judge others.  Yet, groups who publish dictionaries make their living defining the labels, and have the power to affect society, if we choose to give them that power.

How did the idea evolve that "biker" is associated with black leather and half-helmets, while "motorcycle enthusiast" is associated with ATGATT and day-glo colors? If a motorcycle gang member wore ATGATT with a chartreuse jacket, does that mean he doesn't kill people anymore?

A guy photographed above is a friend of mine.  If you didn't know him, you'd probably stay the Hell away from him.  But if you did, you'd know he's as gentle, educated, and well mannered as the best of us.

If you're comfortable with who you are, you'll make your own rules.  We don't need Oxford Dictionary to decide what's proper.  "Rider", "biker", "motorcycle enthusiast", "motorcyclist"; it all smells just as sweet.


  1. In fairness, Noah Webster, of Merriam-Webster fame was a bad-ass patriot. He hated the English so much that he didn't want to speak their language and went about changing it for American use. That is why Yanks spell "realise" as "realize," "colour" as "color" and so on. He and his dictionary are also why we can use almost any noun as a verb (e.g. "tabling as issue"). His changes have become so commonplace that they have even altered British English.

    So, to that end, dictionaries are incredibly influential. They solidify what a word means and how it is used. But, firstly they are reflective of word usage. So, a change in the definition of "biker" is not a change initiated so much by lexicographers but by society. And in that way, the change suggests that by broadening its definitions of them, society is slowly falling out of its habit of demonizing motorcyclists.

  2. How many are in a "gang' or "group?" if it's more than one then I guess by the dictionary definition I'm not a biker. Like you said in your profile, I'm a loner too. Always on the run, whether in my head or on the road. Trying to out run myself like trying to lose my shadow.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)