‘I Crew’ – I Don’t Think So…

Now, Andy Anderson, writing as ‘Doctor Rowing’ in the magazine Rowing News, is a man of my liking. In the latest issue of the mentioned magazine, of February 2011, he answers a question from ‘Jim’ about the word ‘crew’ in the sentence “I row crew” and in the expression ‘crew team’, which the signature ‘Jim’ finds preposterous. Andy, ‘Doctor Rowing’, agrees – good man, Andy, I say!

Some months back, I was involved in an e-mail discussion about using the word ‘crew’ as a verb. Strangely enough, that discussion was also initiated by a man called ‘Jim’! (Probably the same fellow, I would imagine.)

The school I went to in Sweden taught us children British-English, instead of American-English, so when I moved to Connecticut ten years ago, I was convinced that ‘crewing’ was American-English for ‘rowing at an American college’ where they only row in eights and fours. But I now understand that it is not that easy. Early on you only ‘crewed’ at American upper-crust educational institutions, like Yale, Harvard, Penn, and the other Ivy League schools, while, for example, they practise ‘rowing’ at Trinity College in Hartford (their web site says ‘rowing’). In his article Andy mentions the example “My grandfather crewed at Yale”.

It is true that the Ivy League schools’ practise of the word ‘crew’ has by now slipped down to the lower levels, smaller colleges, clubs, community rowing programmes, etc, and therefore more and more people are using ‘crewing’ as substitute for ‘rowing’ in America. However, after living here for ten years, I still have a problem with ‘crewing’ instead of ‘rowing’. In Britain they would never say ‘crewing’ for rowing at Oxford and Cambridge, nor would I. To me, ‘to crew’ can never be synonymous with to ‘row’ or the sport of rowing, because you would never say ‘crewing in a pair’, or would you? And my apologies all around as I am a foreigner in this country and my mother-tongue is not American-English, nor British-English, but Swedish (even some Swedes would disagree on this as I am from the south of Sweden with a strong dialect of its own). To me, using ‘crewing’ at certain times instead of ‘rowing’ is bad English, or at best, sloppy English that can confuse the listener or reader.

It can also, quite honestly, turn people off from continuing reading a text, at least that is what happened to me some months ago when I began reading an article in the Rowing News about one of the United States’ most prominent female rowers, a world champion as a matter of fact, who was asked what she was doing for winter training. She answered: “I erg”. I stopped reading right there!

Anyone interested in the expression ‘crew team’, should read what rowing historian Bill Miller has to say about that by clicking here.


  1. I really don't mind “to erg” as there is no existing verb for “to bore yourself to death on a stupid indoor substitute for getting out on the water.”
    However, using “to crew” for “to row” is not only unnecessary but confusing.

  2. Oh come now — modern English is full of nouns being used as verbs. Take the commonly used noun-verb, 'to transition.' How often do people say that they are 'transitioning,' these days?

    Using 'to erg' must fall under this category, and I must say I don't find it nearly as troublesome as 'to friend' (thanks to facebook). While I don't share the contempt for the machine that the above person does, it does get to the heart of the matter, rather than saying, 'I row on the indoor rowing machine.'

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