Janet is a versatile athlete with letters in swimming

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sb70012

Senior Member
Azerbaijani/Persian
Janet is a versatile athlete with letters in swimming, tennis, and volleyball.
Source: vocabulary for the high school students

Hello,
The blue word [letters] doesn't make sense in the above context. It's odd to me because it doesn't make sense to point to some printed messages (letters) while swimming. Would you please be kind enough to clarify it to me?

Thank you.
 
  • Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    To "letter" in a sport means to compete in that sport for your school at a certain level of excellence. To acknowledge your skills, you are given a fabric letter (usually the first letter of the name of your school) that can be sewn onto a jacket.

    Someone who letters in three sports is a very versatile athlete.

    Here's a link to a Wikipedia article on "letterman" (sic).
     

    sb70012

    Senior Member
    Azerbaijani/Persian
    To "letter" in a sport means to compete in that sport
    Thanks for answering but I couldn't understand your explanation very well.
    But the word 'letters' in my context is a noun not a verb. Then why do you say it means 'to compete'?
    'to compete' is a verb not a noun.

    Thank you.
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    "Letters" here refers to a specific thing: A piece of fabric and embroidery in the shape of some letters that stand for the person's high school.

    So for example if the name of her school was "Center City High School," her school might be represented by the letters "CC." In honor of her athletic achievements, she'd be awarded a special piece of fabric and embroidery in the shape of "CC" (you can see a photo of one in the Wiki article Florentia linked - it's a "W" in that case), and she'd also get three little embroidered symbols, one each for tennis, swimming and volleyball, and she could, if she wants to, sew them on a jacket, just as the person did in the Wiki photo.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    In BrE this means nothing to me, I've never heard of it before even from US TV shows, and couldn't have guessed what it meant – an A grade? a B.Phys.Ed degree?
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Assume a person is in High School and plays on the Varsity (the best) football team (there may be a junior varsity team, with less able players).
    Once that person is on the team they are given a "letter" made of cloth that can be attached to their high school sports jacket.

    letterjacket.gif

    They are therfore identified as being a member of one of the high school sports teams.

    Because we are so flexible in English we like to make things short, and create new words.

    verb - 'to letter' = receive a cloth letter to put on your jacket indicating membership on a team.
    past participle = lettered
    conjugation:
    I letter
    You letter
    he/she/it letters
    we letter
    you letter
    they letter
    :D
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I was as totally mystified as sb (the OP) evidently was: I've never come across any of this in BE. :confused:

    When I was at Junior School we had little sew-on cloth badges which I guess fulfilled the same function as described here, but even so I wouldn't have guessed what "letters" meant in this context.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    It's always good to pick up these culture-specific words, isn't it? Anyone who has gone to school in the U.S. would know what "lettering" in a sport meant. It's a status symbol in high school here.

    I believe it's the source of the 50s singing group's name "The Lettermen". A boy who "letters" in a sport is called a letterman.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    Thanks for answering but I couldn't understand your explanation very well.
    But the word 'letters' in my context is a noun not a verb. Then why do you say it means 'to compete'?
    'to compete' is a verb not a noun.
    As Florentia said:
    To "letter" in a sport means to compete in that sport for your school at a certain level of excellence. To acknowledge your skills, you are given a fabric letter (usually the first letter of the name of your school) that can be sewn onto a jacket.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Also:
    letter (noun)
    7. An emblem in the shape of the initial of a school awarded for outstanding performance, especially in varsity athletics.
    AHD
     

    Winstanley808

    Banned
    English - U.S.
    Sometimes the letters are sewn onto sweaters rather than jackets. At least, they were when I was attending an American high school in the early 1960's. My high school's "school colors" were blue and white; the sweaters were white cardigans, the letter was blue. I didn't myself letter in anything.
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Winstanley808 said:
    Sometimes the letters are sewn onto sweaters ....
    ... and they are called letter sweaters.

    From a Wikipedia article (this is the same article referred to by Florentia in post #2):

    History
    Varsity jackets trace their origins to letter sweaters, first introduced by the Harvard University baseball team in 1865.[1] The letter was usually quite large and centered (if the sweater was a pullover); stripes on one sleeve designated the number of letters won, with a star indicating a team captain.
     
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    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    While I know "letter" as a noun in the school sports sense—i.e., the school letter to be worn on a sweater or jacket (seen in the front view in post #7)—the use of the word as a verb ("to letter") is foreign to me. Maybe it's regional? I went to high school in the state of Pennsylvania.
     

    Winstanley808

    Banned
    English - U.S.
    It might be most common in sportswriting. In regard to high school athletics, I see it regularly in university sports team media guides, in capsule biographies of players: "Lettered in lacrosse, soccer, and basketball."
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    QUOTE="Parla, post: 15367510, member: 460873"]While I know "letter" as a noun in the school sports sense—i.e., the school letter to be worn on a sweater or jacket (seen in the front view in post #7)—the use of the word as a verb ("to letter") is foreign to me. Maybe it's regional? I went to high school in the state of Pennsylvania.[/QUOTE]
    I'm from the Midwest, and it's normal usage to me.
     

    Winstanley808

    Banned
    English - U.S.
    Perhaps it's generational, at least among those who don't read much about high school and college sports. I don't remember whether the verb was in use in my upstate New York high school, 1962–65. The noun certainly was; I remember a section of the student handbook detailing the requirements for earning a "letter."
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    While I know "letter" as a noun in the school sports sense—i.e., the school letter to be worn on a sweater or jacket (seen in the front view in post #7)—the use of the word as a verb ("to letter") is foreign to me. Maybe it's regional? I went to high school in the state of Pennsylvania.
    It seems to be used in your region, Parla:

    http://www.heraldmailmedia.com/spor...cle_3505113a-22bc-11e5-a92d-1f0e05ed2a01.html
    Dotter, a 1974 Williamsport High School graduate, was a standout in football and track and field for the Wildcats. He helped lead Williamsport to three straight titles at the Washington County championships in track, setting meet records in the 100- and 220-yard dashes and long and triple jumps.

    Dotter continued his football career at the University of Maryland. He played in three bowl games and lettered twice for the Terps, specializing in kickoff returns. Maryland went 28-8 during Dotter’s playing time.
    http://sportstown.post-gazette.com/knoch/51462-wrestling-north-feature-athlete-knoch-s-brandon-yobst
    Yobst is a three-year varsity starter. He lettered in wrestling and cross country last season, and this season is a handful on the mat. He is a very motivated hard worker and that hard work has been obvious this year on the mat.
     
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    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    One also "letters" in university (said for BE readers; I would normally say "college") sports, and not just high school sports. For example, it was very important to Robert F. Kennedy (the brother of President John F. Kennedy, and a major figure in American political history in his own right) that he earn a letter while playing on the football team when he was a student at Harvard. In order for a Harvard football player to be able to receive the big crimson "H", he had to play in the annual game against Yale -- but Kennedy had broken his leg shortly before that game. Nevertheless, the coach let Kennedy play -- with his leg in a large cast! -- for a few minutes, and he received his letter.
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    One also "letters" in university (said for BE readers; I would normally say "college") sports, and not just high school sports. For example, it was very important to Robert F. Kennedy (the brother of President John F. Kennedy, and a major figure in American political history in his own right) that he earn a letter while playing on the football team when he was a student at Harvard. In order for a Harvard football player to be able to receive the big crimson "H", he had to play in the annual game against Yale -- but Kennedy had broken his leg shortly before that game. Nevertheless, the coach let Kennedy play -- with his leg in a large cast! -- for a few minutes, and he received his letter.
    Well, it depends on the era - or possibly the college/university. I don't think I saw a single letter jacket during my entire college career - not one - and I haven't seen any when I visit colleges these days, either. But maybe they're still important at some schools.
     

    Mrs JJJ

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (British)
    In BrE this means nothing to me, I've never heard of it before even from US TV shows, and couldn't have guessed what it meant – an A grade? a B.Phys.Ed degree?
    I agree that it's an American English term. When I was at school in England in the 1960s, the term used for the equivalent sporting award was "colours". Though, as can be guessed, they came in the form of coloured strips, rather than letters.

    I don't know whether students are still awarded colours in British schools. It's possible that the reward system is used only in independent (i.e. fee-paying) schools nowadays, if at all. (I hope that others will post further details later.) But I believe that colours can still be earned at the university level - notably at Oxford and Cambridge.
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Well, it depends on the era - or possibly the college/university. I don't think I saw a single letter jacket during my entire college career - not one - and I haven't seen any when I visit colleges these days, either. But maybe they're still important at some schools.
    The one at Indiana University looks like this. You've never seen one of these?

    IUVarsity.jpg
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    Well, it depends on the era - or possibly the college/university. I don't think I saw a single letter jacket during my entire college career - not one - and I haven't seen any when I visit colleges these days, either. But maybe they're still important at some schools.
    Well, while I never placed the letter on a jacket, I lettered (and still have the cloth letter!) in swimming at my college, back in 1980 or so. It also required not only being a member of the varsity team, but also placing first, second, or third in a certain number of swim meets.
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    The one at Indiana University looks like this. You've never seen one of these?

    View attachment 16167
    Nope. Since they still sell them, presumably kids still buy them and wear them. But I haven't seen anybody do so, not even in photos. I do spend more time at Purdue than I do IU, but I would guess it's the same there - that they are still sold, that kids buy and wear them, but that they are, for whatever reason, just not a major part of college life, the way they were and I think still are for high school life. It could simply be a function of population size, too. The percentage of kids in an average high school who letter and wear their letter jackets is considerably higher, I'm sure, than the percentage of kids who letter and wear their letter jackets at IU or Purdue - or my alma mater, for that matter (San Jose State, in case you're curious, James :)). That higher percentage would make them more prominent, I'm sure.

    To drag myself back on target, for me and I think for most people, "lettering" and "letters" - which are, by the way, also awarded for academic achievement these days - are terms used a lot more often in reference to high school life than they are to college/university life.
     
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