A Gap in the Market

One of the side effects of being involved in various cycle campaigns is the variety of enquiries that come my way from time to time – although, sadly, they never seem to include ‘would you like to have a free bicycle to try out?’ for some reason. However, some do offer somewhat more intangible value – like the Belgian student who contacted us at the Cycling Embassy wondering if there was an English equivalent of the word ‘kuitenbijter’, which means – apparently – ‘the tough part of the climb if you cycle uphill’ (literally, ‘calf biter’).

Now, there are perils to getting the internet to do your homework for you, particularly the risk that the internet will just make something up for the hell of it (it would be an interesting experiment to see whether ‘the tournaig’ – ‘the point where you round a bend and the bastard winds start hitting you in the face’ – ever does make it into the Belgian cycling lexicon). Especially as, inexplicably, there is no word or phrase in the language of Shakespeare for the tough part of the climb if you cycle uphill – or at least nothing that doesn’t involve a lot of swearing. We tried opening it out to twitter, which resulted in the English speaking part of my timeline promptly deciding that the English word for the tough part of a climb if you cycle uphill would from now on be ‘kuitenbijter’ – or more likely, once it’s passed through the traditional English process of mangling both punctuation and spelling into something more familiar, ‘kittenblighter’ – while the Dutch-speaking part started to dispute whether it in fact referred to the tough part of a climb if you cycle uphill, or whether it more prosaically just referred to a short but steep hill (we’ve got plenty of phrases for those in English, mostly revolving around the world ‘bastard’).

So our Belgian student is none the wiser although she can rest assured that she has just enriched the English language to the tune of one word (and if she followed some of the debate online has possibly enriched her own vocabulary with some Anglo Saxon epithets). And now, if only this wind would drop, I could go out and enjoy a few kittenblighters on the bike, without having them all morph into tournaigs.

steep hill


10 Responses to A Gap in the Market

  1. I don’t really do hills – I live in London, after all – but the one ‘hill’ of sorts I climb on my regular commute (Pond Street, in Hampstead) got turned into a kittenblighter this morning due to the presence of a bus on my tail. In all my four and a bit years of commuting that way, I don’t think I’ve pedalled so fast up that hill.

  2. commuterjohn says:

    I think all parts of the British isles have a phrase for it which is local to that area. It is very often mumbled in a breathless dialect and therefore not a universally known phrase and most non cyclists would not have ever heard of it anyway.
    I would guess it is an Anglo Saxon word as only the British are daft or determined enough to take on a hill in the oncoming wind and rain!

  3. disgruntled says:

    I grew up in Muswell Hill so I can assure you there are hills even in That London. .. but yeah I do hate having to cane it up any hill because there’s some huge vehicle on your tail (it’s usually a tractor in my case)

    Also I discovered that the belgians positively fetishise suffering on the bike so if anyone’s going uphill and into the driving rain it will be them.

  4. WOL says:

    If there is such an “English” equivalent, I’d bet it was of Anglo-Saxon origin. All the really good, pithy epithets are. English has so many linguistic roots to draw from and when the going gets tough, and Anglo Saxon is well known for calling a spade a spadu.

  5. CJ says:

    I’m laughing, how I love to come here and learn something new. And I can’t believe no-one has offered you a free bicycle to try out. Surely it’s only a matter of time.

  6. Milne Munroe says:

    I don’t know, I think “calf-biter” has a nice Anglo-Saxon ring to it.

  7. disgruntled says:

    @WOL if it’s Anglo Saxon it’s probably roughly the same in the Flemish, thinking about it
    @CJ – I know, it’s incredible to me too. I live in hope…
    @Milne – that’s true too

  8. Autolycus says:

    Of course the Belgians have a word for such a thing. Not wanting to stereotype and all that, but over there a speed bump is probably a bit of an adventure.

  9. […] route that would supposedly avoid the worst of the contour lines. This turned out to be a bit of a kitten blighter – one of those roads where you turn a corner and realise it kicks up just as you get around […]

  10. […] May I discovered an entirely new word for hills https://cityexile.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/a-gap-in-the-market/ which came in handy when we decided to eat all the pies […]

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