Overuse and Granfalloons

Ah, a runner writing about overuse injuries.  Indeed, I do know something those.  As Marathon Maniac #130, I am not reticent about my excesses.  And running too many miles  (o dear, do I even succumb to agreeing this is possible?)  without enough rest days can indeed result in overuse injuries.


Yes but that’s for another day. I’m using overuse here to describe the tendency we–the collective, societal “we”–have to circle around a word and then glom onto it such that the poor word becomes positively exhausted, not to mention practically meaningless, due to our uttering it in every other sentence.

Take for example, literally.  The word means ‘strictly,’ or in reality.  So if you say “I literally peed my pants,” you mean that wherever you were, your drawers were dripping.  Unfortunately, it’s come to mean ‘almost’ or to intensify what the speaker is describing.  Saying “I literally almost killed him” should mean the gun was in my hand,  good thing it wasn’t loaded.  If you were really ready to throw an apple at him, then no.  Use your words and describe your anger.  Don’t default to misusing literally.

And poor “amazing” and “absolutely.”  Shall we count the ways they are overworked?  There’s Facebook group you can join: “Overuse of the word ‘Amazing.'”  Honest.  I understand this.  We are all guilty.   You know you have used amazing to describe  something interesting or odd or pretty–but really not stupendous, awe-inspiring AMAZING.   Which brings me to “community.”  amazingFunnily enough, the FB Amazing overuse group is described as–what else– a Community.

I have long been critical of the use and overuse of community.   Don’t misunderstand; I support and enjoy community life.  Friendships are important to me.   I’m active on several social media sites.   Yet over the past ten to twenty years, it irks me that we have developed a penchant for slapping the word community on any loose association or amalgamation of people who are connected by the slightest of gossamer threads.

The day this irritation became a real raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth is etched my mind like a Mathew Brady photograph.   I was working and living in Western Massachusetts with a bit of commute, during which I listened to WAMC, the local NPR station out of Albany.   While NPR does not air commercials, per se, it does broadcast brief statements from local sponsors.  Imagine me happily heading home when I hear a spot from a yarn shop referring to the “community of knitters.”

Ack!  First off, disclaimer: I’ve nothing but respect for knitters.  Several fellow students in my (cold, Massachusetts) law school class knitted diligently through torts and civil procedure and are excellent lawyers today.  And, I trust, warm.   People who happen to knit, however, do not to me constitute a community.  At best, they may constitute a “granfalloon.”


Created by Kurt Vonnegut, a granfalloon is a group of people who affect a shared identity of purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.   One example of such a group, in which Vonnegut was a member, is Hoosiers, i.e., people from the same state who otherwise have nothing in common.  If community means a sense of fellowship with others due to sharing common goals, outlooks and understandings, and having a particular characteristic in common, then a community is more than a granfalloon.

And my question is: are runners a granfalloon or a community?run com



......former public defender/legal aid lawyer, Teach For America teacher, and always running....

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One comment on “Overuse and Granfalloons
  1. SteveP says:

    In our area, we have many runners who get together for the purpose of running. Some of them meet for other social activities. Others unite to effect our lifestyle in the area. They help finance paved trails, make donations to schools’ track clubs and gather donations for food banks. I suspect, the later is a community.

    My preferred term for all of the above is, “band of misfits”.

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Marathoner, Detroit native, Red Sox Nation member, lover of all things "all singing/all dancing" and glad you're here. Friends with Coco, Caroline and Simon (2 cats & the Eclectus Parrot).

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