27 Mar /19


Doping – Word of the day – EVS Translations
Doping – Word of the day – EVS Translations

Consistently pushing yourself to go higher or faster, be stronger, and try harder, sports are a condensed story of the human experience, involving hard work, determination, sacrifice, ability, and a touch of luck to determine, in a contest of ability with all other aspects equal, who is better. Unfortunately, though sometimes all aspects are not equal, and, far from being a missed call or scoring error, the difference is known and intentional, such as through the use of performance-enhancing substances. From cycling to sumo wrestling and baseball to swimming, virtually every sport has been touched by doping in some way, and, though we all know what doping means and why it’s bad, we don’t seem to know much about why we use the word.

Though it may initially seem odd, our word dope comes from the Dutch term doop, meaning ‘a thick dipping sauce’, which originated as the word doopen, ‘to dip’. Initially entering our language as an American slang term for a sauce or gravy in 1807, one of the first mentions of the word can be found in Washington Irving’s Salmagundi, where he speaks of: “love of what the learned Dutch call dope“.

From this usage, the term then became generalized as simply referring to a thick liquid mixture. For example, an 1868 edition of Putnam’s Magazine refers to applying a thick dope, stating: “With their snow-shoes thoroughly ‘doped’, the crowd resort to some suitable place for the contest, which begins with a grand dash.” 8 years later, the Territorial Enterprise of Virginia City, Nevada expounds on this in a 13 February, 1876 article, noting how: “Nothing was known of the mysteries of ‘dope’—a preparation of pitch which, being applied to the bottom of the shoes, enables the wearer to glide over snow softened by the warmth of the sun.”

It is precisely this image of a thick, liquid pitch that first caused our term to be associated with drugs. Resembling the treacle-like preparation used in opium smoking, the San Francisco Chronicle first reported in 1886 how: “The operation of preparing the opium, or ‘dope’, as it is more generally called among white habitues, for the pipe, is quite interesting.”

Now that the term had been identified with a drug, it wasn’t long until it also became associated with the usage of drugs, often to achieve a specified purpose, as the following quote from Albert Barrere and Charles Godfrey Leland’s 1889 Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant demonstrates: “Doping is the stupifying men with tobacco prepared in a peculiar way… Nine out of ten saloons in the slums employ doping as a means to increase their illicit revenue. —American Newspaper.”

Soon, as could’ve been imagined, the term (and usage) quickly found its way into sport, specifically into sports where gambling is associated. Looking at the first mentioned instances, which occurred in horse racing, The Daily News (London) is, in 1900, already proving the usage of drugs by talking about how: “ ‘Doping’ meant the administration to a horse of certain medical preparations, with the object of either stimulating or retarding the animal’s progress in a race.” Conversely, anti-doping measures soon followed in the 1914 Racing Calendar, where an article states that: “I was unable to obtain evidence of the presence of a doping agent.”

Though this was a century ago, doping itself, like any other crime, is nothing new. In ancient Greece and Rome, athletes drank herbal infusions to aid their performance. In 1807, just as the word was entering our vocabulary, walking racer Abraham Wood admitted to using laudanam in order to stay awake 24 hours for the duration of his race. Finally, just a few years ago, in the 2011 World Championships, 30% of athletes admitted to using banned substances over the course of their career, and, even though a World Anti-Doping Agency put the number higher (at 44%), only 0.5% of those tested were caught.

Surely, the best way to prevent doping is through strict testing; however, with an ever-elaborate doping scheme that always seems to be one step ahead, this will be no easy task. So, for better or worse, this is a term that will likely remain in our vocabulary for a long time.