Why do people call them ‘tennis shoes’?

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New York Liberty v Chicago SkyPhoto by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Shoes can be sneakers, or trainers, or basketball shoes, or literally whatever specific type of shoe that you’re *actually* talking about.

I’ve always been curious why people call any kind of sneaker “tennis shoes.”

Hearing “put your tennis shoes on” growing up was always weird to me. Not because I was being told to put shoes on, but because I was being told to put on a pair of shoes that apparently had a very specific purpose.

That purpose, of course, was to play tennis, which I was not doing. Calling them “tennis shoes” seems oddly specific, especially when many people who use the term don’t even know how the score is kept in an actual tennis match.

Tennis: French OpenSusan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
One of my favorite tennis players, Gael Monfils, playing tennis in tennis shoes

The origin of the term “tennis shoes” goes back a few centuries, according to a website called wonderopolis.org, which I’ve decided must be legit since it’s dot org:

The first rubber-soled shoes were developed in the late 18th Century in England. They were called plimsolls and were a far cry from the tennis shoes we know today. For example, they were all the same, which meant that there was no specific right or left foot!

Despite their deficiencies, plimsolls were popular and spurred rapid development of improved models and new styles. In particular, people began to use them for recreational activities, such as playing tennis. The rubber soles did not mark up the tennis court, and they allowed players to stop and start quickly.

Children of the time also noticed that the rubber soles were very quiet. They allowed them to sneak around without being noticed. It wasn’t long before tennis shoes also became known as sneakers.

For the record, I’m a “sneakers” or simply “shoes” guy, myself. “Shoes” is neutral, and “sneakers” isn’t sport-specific. It just makes more sense.

I’m not going to call one of my favorite pairs of shoes I own — white cement Air Jordan 3s — tennis shoes. They are iconic — the same shoes on Michael Jordan’s feet when he won the 1988 dunk contest. Mike’s legendary moment did not happen in some tennis shoes.

1988 Slam Dunk ContestPhoto by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Michael Jordan, thinking about becoming a legend in some basketball shoes/sneakers/not tennis shoes

If somebody were to approach me — a person wearing these specific Air Jordans — and say, “nice tennis shoes,” I then know that they don’t understand the blistering heat residing on my feet. That’s also fine — but I know.

Of course, a lot of words and phrases vary by region. Some of you break out into hives at the thought of using the word “y’all” and swear the best way to refer to a carbonated soft drink is “pop.”

But it appears that most people say “tennis shoes”:

And hey, to each their own, because this is all pretty insignificant when it comes down to it.

As somebody who often opts to use “yeet” as a response to literally anything instead of providing actual words, I’m probably the last person who should be arguing why or why not certain words or phrases shouldn’t be used.

But I just did.

If there are other words/phrases that don’t make sense to you, drop them in the comments, or @ me.

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