Frank Stoner On Why Inspin & Outspin Were A Bad Idea

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Article by Frank Stoner
Introduction by Daniel Nodzak

Frank Stoner is a rhetorician, cognitive linguist, rollerblader, and CEO of Hypatia Extracts based out of Denver, Colorado. His articles have appeared in just about every blading media outlet there is over the years and I’ve always enjoyed his uniquely academic approach to tackling a wide array of topics in rollerblading. So when he reached out to me a few months ago about finding a way to bring some attention to his latest venture I told him if he wrote something for Blader Union, on any subject he liked, we’d let him plug whatever he wanted to afterward. Frank did not disappoint. So without prattling on further let’s dive in and find out why Frank believes the terms ‘inspin’ and ‘outspin’ should be abandoned by the rollerblading community entirely.

After you’ve read the article be sure to let us know what you think in the comments and check out the links for Hypatia Extracts.


Normally, I go to pretty great lengths not to be one of those stuffy nerd-hole academics who seem to revel in pointing out how you misspoke or where you should have put a comma in your email. That kind of sophomoric stuffiness is often called “prescriptivism” and I am no prescriptivist. Language is the entitlement of its users—it is not owned by anyone with an office in an Ivory Tower. It’s that simple.

But I have to call a turd when I see a turd—even if it makes me seem like I’m pontificating.

So here it is: the terms “inspin” and “outspin” are shit, and we should all collectively give up on them.

Here’s why:

First, they’re inconsistently used and confusing.

If you go around (as I have done) and survey a lot of people from a lot of difference places, you’ll find very little consistency between crews—and even individuals—in any locale. In some places (and within certain age groups) I find that certain people use inspin/outspin ONLY when referring to fakie-based approaches. In other places, people confuse the direction (that is, the meaning of the terms) when they’re referring to forward vs. fakie approaches. This is likely—even predictable—because the intended consistency belies intuition. “Fakie inspin soul grind” is unlikely to be misunderstood by many people. It’s “the short way” or “the easy way.” Similarly, “fakie outspin soul grind” is similarly predictable and intuitive. You skate backwards towards a thing and spin from the outer vantage—not the “inner” vantage. But if you include the forward-stanced spinning approaches in your canon of what can be augmented with the inspin/outspin descriptors, you’re inviting a problem.

As we just saw, there is good intuition for inspin & outspin if the skater you’re describing is approaching fakie. Say something like “inspin 360 topsoul” and you’re inviting confusion and inconsistency. This is because something linguists call “salience” is missing or ambiguous. Your intuition may suggest that a skater moves toward a rail and jumps “out” or “away” from the rail, and therefore the spin would be an “outspin.” This would be wrong—despite your “native speaker intution” for bladespeak—because it’s actually the opposite spin from what would have occurred if the skater had approached fakie. Jumping (initially) “out” from the rail belies the intuitive sense of what the skater is actually doing—in this case: an inspin. As I said, the problem is that there is no “salient” descriptor in the phrase “outspin 360 topsoul” that lets you know that your intuition must be guarded against because the convention is otherwise. Rollerbladers (and users of blade-speak) are thus helpless to understanding what they’re supposed to say, so they rely on their intuition.

Lyle Shivak hurricane topsoul - No One’s Children by Jan Welch

For many people, “inspin 360 topsoul” is what others might call a “hurricane topsoul.” Still others call this maneuver a “hardspin 360 topsoul.” Others would equally well rely on their native speaker intuition and produce the phrase “outspin 360 topsoul.” When the scenario lacks salience, intuition will kick in and produce whatever results make the most sense to the user—whether or not you agree.

The bottom line is this: the terms are inconsistently used (worldwide) and even locally. And they’re confusing.

The second problem is this: the people who proposed the terms were trying to do too much with them.

Among the head honchos back in the day, everyone had a burr up their ass about rollerblading language borrowing too heavily from skateboarding language. I’m not indifferent to this, and, between me, you, and the fencepost, I rather despise skateboarding, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. Regardless of how I feel—or how certain OGs felt back in the day—certain terms and schemes are unavoidable. Skateboarding language was first to use numbered degrees of circles to describes spins (180 is half a turn, 360 is a full turn, and so on) and literally ALL ACTION “SPORTS” use this convention. It’s inescapable. “Fakie” also is a skateboardering term, as is “half-cab.” Certain of these terms are unavoidable, but some ARE avoidable.

So, bless their hearts thirty years ago to all the rollerbladers in positions of power who attempted to create new language that didn’t borrow unnecessarily from skateboardering. A pox on those who embraced it in obsequious, disgusting ways.

Ahem. Anyway.

As the terms (inspin & outspin) were originally proposed, they were meant to displace both “fakie” and terms like “half cab” in a single stroke. “Fakie” was a skateboardering term through and through, and “cab” is literally short for a skateboarders name (the venerable Steve Cabellero. I know a good man when I see one, even if he is a skateboarder). The problem with eliminating “fakie” (as a term) from our lexicon is that doing so would leave a great big gaping hole in what we need to describe. As rollerbladers, most of us skate backwards just as well as we skate forwards, and so nixing “fakie” is a kind of classic scenario of cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

The problem with trying to supplant “inspin” and “outspin” with “cab” from our vocabulary was really just short-sighted. Anyone proposing a new term in rollerblading should anticipate innovation. Just because something isn’t possible now doesn’t mean that it won’t be the next trend—or even the next big thing-- as soon as people figure it out. Topsides were once considered impractical, just as alley-oops where. Supposing that inspin & outspin were adequate (or up to the task) because it was unfathomable that people would willing spin MORE THAN 360 degrees before doing a grind is just absurd. That was 1997, ladies and gentlemen—just a mere couple of years before videos like Leading the Blind (cir. 2005) would show us all that our top bladers would do—essentially—every grind there is under the sun from spins greater than 360 degrees.

Again, the bottom line is this: you can’t propose a new term to supplant things as common as skating backwards up to a trick or spinning (forward OR backward) more than 360 degrees and expect something other than confusion.

I dislike skateboardering as much as the next person, but some things (like “fakie”) are probably just too entrenched to abandon. And so—until something appropriate comes along—we’ll just have to live with it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the introduction of the “inspin” / “outspin” scheme was proposed by fiat, and that, quite simply will never work in a language community such as ours.

In linguistics, we have a notion called “motivation” that has to do with what makes sense to people. It’s not the same motivation as the impulse that gets you off your couch to go skating—it’s a jargon term and it means that words, phrases, or terms get accepted by language users because they make sense intuitively. “Soul grind” is motivated in a two-fold way, because that grind is the “soul” of rollerblading (you can’t do one on a skateboard or any other apparatus) and it also happens on the “sole” of the foot—so it’s both accurate and a clever pun.

Here’s a few more examples really quickly just to drive home what “motivation” is:

1. Tom Fry was loved by his skater-buddies, and they lovingly called him “Fishbrain” because he used to smoke a lot of weed and acted—apparently—stupidly a lot of the time. He invented the “topside makio” and his friends called it “The Fishbrain” as an homage to his nickname. It’d be no different if your name were “Ryan” and your “thing” was to do a back flip in a taco costume. Any time you see someone do a back flip in a taco costume, you could say that that person “did a ‘Ryan.’” It made sense at the time because everyone knew Tom Fry and everybody knew he did that fucked up “topside makio” thing. They also knew his nickname was “Fishbrain.” So “doing a Fishbrain” wasn’t really different from “doing a ‘Tom.’”

Image provided by Mikey Lynch of  Mad Beef Rollerblading Podcast

Image provided by Mikey Lynch of Mad Beef Rollerblading Podcast

2. The “mute grab” (another skateboarding term) occurs at the peak of an air and signifies a little tweak right at the apex of the air—when the world seems to go quiet for an instant—before coming back to the world of noise and sound. You can put the rest together.

3. The “unity” grind (more or less unique to rollerblading—though some skiers and rollerskaters have done fairly strange versions of it) is derived or “motivated” by the cross-legged “lotus” sitting style thought to bring “unity” to the “mind and body” during meditation.

4. Somewhat infamously, the term “porn star” was coined by Phil Riley because it looked (to him, and everyone else) like a “porn stance” to grind a rail bent in half at the waist with your ass sticking out like you want somebody to have sex with it.

In all these cases, there was an original “motivation” that, often, may be lost to time. Few people under 30 (nowadays) will even know who Tom Fry was. Few people may recognize the silence experienced during a “mute air” when done (albeit, originally, on a skateboard) out of vert ramp. Fewer still will realize that the “unity” has to do with Buddhism. The same is true with Phil’s trick. But, in all cases, there WAS a motivation for all terms—whether you know it or not. And that motivation was originally there whether people remember it or not.

About a thousand years ago, people used to use a word called “es” (that no longer exists) after a noun to denote “more than one” of that thing. If you had a cat, you had a cat. If you two or more cats, you would say you had “cat es.” Eventually, that word “es” transformed into the plural “s” that we all know and love today. I’m guessing you’ve never heard that before, but that doesn’t prevent you from being able to say a word like “cats.” We know that “es” existed, but we don’t know what motivated it originally.

Long story short, all language is “motivated” and it doesn’t matter if you know the motivation or not. You can still use the language. You can still say “Fishbrain.” A new term just needs to be “motivated” long enough for it to be accepted.

The problem with “inspin” and “outspin” is that they have crappy motivation. It isn’t obvious to everyone exactly what they mean. In a word, they are “unmotivated” because they don’t function the same way that “motivated terms” like Fishbrain or “Mute” do.

Worse still, you can’t command somebody to use a phrase that doesn’t make intuitive sense to them. They just won’t use it—or… they’ll use it in ways they don’t understand, or in ways that YOU didn’t intend.

You can’t make language by fiat. It just never works.

So here’s the TL;DR: Inspin and outspin are inconsistently used. They are confusing to a whole lot of people. The creators where trying to do too much with too little, and, as we’ve just seen, the terms have crappy motivation because they mean different things to different people. You can’t create language by fiat because, ultimately, the users of the language will decide whether or not the shit makes sense to them. If it doesn’t, that shit’s gotta go.

Like I said in the beginning, I’m no prescriptivist, but I have to call a turd a turd when I see one.

Thanks so much for reading, and thanks to Blader Union for the chance to share my point of view on this. -fs


Editor’s Note: Frank Stoner wrote a follow-up (originally published 4.3.19) to this article which can be viewed via the link below.