Olympics: asymmetric bars vs uneven bars

It's about time we had an Olympics-related post.

Our website editor asks why the 'asymmetric bars' women's gymnastics event is now being called the 'uneven bars', and when the change happened. The International Olympic Committee website refers to 'uneven bars' not 'asymmetric bars'. Wikipedia mentions both terms but prefers 'uneven bars'.

The Concise OED gives 'uneven bars' as the "North American term for asymmetric bars". So it's interesting to see guardian.co.uk using 'uneven bars' (albeit not exclusively). Perhaps its writers – or most of them – are simply following the International Olympic Committee preference?

Our website editor also feels that 'asymmetric' is a more accurate description of the apparatus than 'uneven', as the bars are both perfectly horizontal and regular.

So here's my argument for the bars being 'uneven'. The OED defines 'uneven' as "not level or smooth", and while the bars are certainly smooth, they are arguably not level. Not in the sense of being "at the same height as someone or something else", anyway. So each bar is in itself even, but together they are uneven.

Perhaps we should just call them the 'bars at different heights' and have done with it. Any other suggestions?

9 comments:

The Frumplingtons said...

Why not make things really simple by ditching the redundant adjective and just calling the assymetric bars 'the bars'? Here's why:

In Olympic gymnastics, women compete on just one set of bars (those assymetric or uneven ones). Call these just 'the bars' and everyone should understand that the speaker is talking about women's gymnastics.

Men, however, compete on both the parallel bars (I'd keep the adjective in this case) and also the high bar, which is also clearly named.

Strangely, at various places on the BBC Olympics pages, the high bar is labelled as the 'horizontal' bar. I'd have thought horizontal was a bit obvious, though. Unless the Beeb are using the word 'horizontal' so we don't confuse it with the vertical bar. Hang on though: that would be pole dancing, wouldn't it?

Surely to goodness the IOC aren't planning to make that an Olympic event!

The Ridger, FCD said...

Of course I'm an American but forty years ago when my sister was doing gymnastics in high school they were uneven bars, and I've never heard them called anything else (to the best of my recollection, anyway).

mandyjb said...

Does anyone know why and when the bars where positioned further away from each other?

Gary said...

I just searched for this having heard the term "uneven bars" being used by the radio. I did gym 20 years ago and never heard anything other than "Assymetric bars" - perhaps we are moving to the American version if it is more widely used. Shame, feels like "dumbing down" a bit to me! :)

Dan said...

My view is that the "not level" part of the OED definition refers to a single object. So an uneven driveway is one that has stones and the like in it or undulates, not one that has two distinct levels.

If uneven, why not odd? The odd bars.

Asymmetric works for me. Uneven suggests that their hands might get ripped to shreds.

Silas said...

They can be moved closer or further apart, but if they're close the gymnast cannot do the high scoring catch & release moves. Oh, and some of the moves from years past which revolved around the bars being close to each other are now banned.

Anonymous said...

For as long as I can remember they were called asymmetric bars (I'm 44 years). For the duration of these olympics I have wondering why the name has changed. I really, really hope it wasn't changed to fall in with the inaccurate US terminology. The inaccurate dumbing down is worrying...

Anonymous said...

Of course, the uneven or asymmetric bars are parallel...

loineral said...

the dumb bars (so called because tabloid journalists who consider that their readers and editors will struggle with words with more than two syllables will understand?):(