It’s an on-going argument in my house. How do you define “sneakers?”

On the spectrum of topics to consider, this is of pretty low importance. Pale in comparison to the other principal topic running through my head: Is it racist, sexist, and homophobic to support Joe Biden simply because he’s the candidate I think most Trump-hating Republicans would be willing to vote for? If I don’t vote for Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg only because they are a black woman and a gay man (not because I have a problem with those attributes, but because I believe large swaths of the American public do), haven’t I met the definition of a racist, sexist, and homophobic decision?

See? Wouldn’t my time be better spent considering that topic rather than defining sneakers?

Sneaker {noun} – a soft shoe with a rubber sole worn for sports or casual occasions.

I got this definition on the internet. Not from a tried and true source like Merriam-Webster, but from the generic dictionary that pops up when I type “sneaker define.” I don’t know who owns that dictionary. Google? If so, aren’t they just trying to sell me something?

I only agree with half of that definition. I believe that sneakers are worn for casual occasions. That’s my catch-all term for sporty looking shoes not used for sports. If the shoe is sport-specific, it’s no longer a sneaker. My sport is running. Arguably, the only piece of equipment required to run is the correct pair of shoes. And when it comes to shoes, I am a high-maintenance runner.

AltraWhen selecting new shoes, there’s a lot to consider: type of running I do (trail running), firmness or squishiness of the shoe (firm) my foot strike (mid-sole, supinator), and the elevation of my heel (less than or equal to 4mm). Does it have a rock-plate? A wide toe-box? What color does it come in? That last bit about the color is a joke. I’ve never bought a pair of running shoes based on the color, and even if I happen to like the color, the shoes will be completely stained with mud after my first run.

And when I walk in the front door with my brand new shoes, an engineering marvel of usefulness and beauty, Susan says something along the line of “Are you going to give your new sneakers a try?”

No, these are not sneakers. My daughter Sophie disagrees. The shoe she wears on a day to day basis is Converse Chuck Taylors. A shoe made for nothing except casual occasions. “Dad. I agree with you, you can’t call them all sneakers. Take Chuck Taylors for instance…” Sophie has flipped my definition upside down. She believes the sport-specific shoes are sneakers, her Chuck Taylors are, well, Chucks.

Words matter to me. Maybe too much. My family has learned that the easiest way to irritate me is to use a general term for something specific or a specific term for something general. “Hey dad, do you want a piece of licorice? I have three flavors, cherry, banana and lime.”

There is only one flavor of licorice, which happens to be… licorice.


On Thursday evening, Eli asked me to check his sneakers. You might not know what this means. Apparently, I’m the only person in my house who can tell whether shoes fit. Possibly, because I’m so anal retentive about my own shoes, I’m better able to assess everyone else’s. I had Eli stand in front of me, and I pressed on the toe of his shoe to see how much growing room remained. Zero. Eli’s toes were crammed up against the end of his shoe. Maybe he even curled his toes a little to squeeze in. This could be a funny story, except two weeks ago, Eli had minor surgery to correct a badly ingrown toenail. In all the discussions between Eli and me, Eli and his podiatrist, the podiatrist and me, shoe sizing never came up. No one thought to ask Eli if his shoes fit.

Yesterday I went sneaker shopping with Eli. We went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to look at the running shoes. You think you caught me there, calling running shoes sneakers. They may be sold as running shoes, but Eli isn’t going to run. He’ll wear these shoes every minute of every day until they grow a hole or no longer fit. They may become biking shoes, hiking shoes, shopping shoes, sight-seeing shoes, maybe even walk-in-a-stream shoes, but they won’t be running shoes. Sneakers.

I wear a pair of sneakers too, I suppose. They’re Pearl Izumi N2 Trail Running Shoes. At one point, I refused to call them sneakers. But after five hundred miles of running, they’ve been downgraded. I wear them all weekend long (except when I go running).

So there it is, eight hundred words on what constitutes a sneaker. My family will never agree with any of this. I can’t even find solidarity from my wife. About an hour ago, I accompanied Susan on her run. Before we started, I sat on the couch, fiddling with my phone, waiting. Susan was still gathering her stuff. “Just a minute more, I need to put on my sneakers.”

13 thoughts on “Sneakers

  1. That is a lot of words on the topic 🙂 I call all sporty shoes sneakers. And that took a bit as I used to say to the kids, “Go get your tennis shoes” and all of them would look at me, at EACH time I said it and reply, “Mom, I don’t play tennis.” So I switched and went to sneakers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with you, Jeff. Running shoes are far too important to label with the generic term “sneakers”. I would go one step farther and label running shoes either trail running shoes or road running shoes, although I don’t actually own trail running shoes, even though I have done many trail runs. I visited our local running shoe store yesterday and bought new road running shoes (so did my hubby). When I told the man who waited on me that I just do trail runs in my old road shoes, he couldn’t believe it and asked if I ran mostly rail trails. I told him no, I run “real” trails. He asked which races I have done and I listed some. He couldn’t believe I ran Hyner in my old Nikes. Actually, I think I am going to buy some trail shoes, but since we already spent well north of $200 on road shoes, the trail shoes will have to wait. Sorry for the ramble!


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