The first time I came across the word ‘snoreathon’, I fell about laughing. It’s so amusing and evocative.

How was the match / the movie / your date?

A total snoreathon.

You glue a bit of ancient Greek place name to an onomatopoeic middle English verb and you got it: mind-deadening please-make-it-stop tedium beyond endurance.

As you probably know, the marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards), usually run as a road race. ‘It represents the ultimate athletic effort —where the human body, mind and soul are tested to their limits,” in the words of The Athens Marathon. The race was named in commemoration of the mad dash of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, who according to legend was sent as a messenger from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens, to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), in which he had just fought. It is said that Pheidippides ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the Athenian assembly shouting ‘we have won’, whereupon he dropped dead.

To go back even further, the name Marathon refers to the herb fennel, called marathon or marathos in Ancient Greek. The place is believed to have been named for the abundance of fennel plants in the area.

There’s more – lots more – about the battle and the place and the race at Wikipedia, where I went to refresh my memory.

What I find particularly interesting is how ‘-athon’ has been detached from ‘marathon’ and stuck on to all sorts of other words to express the idea of long and arduous, a test of endurance.

The first -athon word appears to have been telethon, which presumably started life as a blend of television and marathon. As tele- is used in many other words (telephone, telepathy, telescope etc) and vision, of course, is a word in its own right, -athon was felt to be a separate suffix or combining form which could be added to all sorts of other words.

Blogathons, drinkathons and swimmathons are only the beginning. There’s a growing number of hilarious –athon words out there. Which ones have you seen?


Pheidippides on the Marathon Road


Share the Post:

Related Posts

12 Responses

  1. I had no idea about the fennel connection. Interesting!! And, being from Colorado, my favorite type of -athon is a skiathon. Haven’t participated, but it’s very fun to watch from the sidelines with a cup of hot cocoa. The craziest I’ve heard of is a waxathon, which just sounds unpleasant.

  2. I’ve always be fascinated about that story of the marathon. Funny post. It made me laugh to think of the number of things to which I should attach athon. There are certainly nuances to how that ending is perceived with readthon, coffeeathon, laughathon giving joy and pleasure to the spirits while taxathon, cleanathon, spiderathon induce irritation, fatigue, and panic. I may have to play with this ending all day long. Great post.

    1. Whatever a spiderathon is, it makes me shudder. I’m phobic about spiders, and even more so about their webs. Spiderwebathon… god forbid. I finally brought myself to google it. Watching episodes of spiderman back to back?

  3. I love this! I feel like it’s a more fun version of the work I have my sophomores do with roots and affixes. Let’s see: walkathon, gradeathon (my least favorite kind), barfathon (what I want to do after the previous entry), petathon (but only with the kitties), all-night danceathon (seen it in the movies). I think we should start calling netflix binge-watching sessions bingeathons.

  4. Look how you have us all thinking, Valerie! While I’ve been sick, I’ve missed having my coffee. I think I’ll have to have a cuppathon, hopefully, tomorrow. We had to interrupt our Downtonathon last night to go to urgent care, but we completed our viewing this morning, and I think it’s Chuck’s turn to drop dead. 😉 Yes, we’re having a sickathon at our house.

  5. When my kids were teens we did a rockathon with the youth group at church…it was an all-nighter in rocking chairs. How about writeathon? Could probably use one of those.

  6. This is great fun, and I enjoyed all the ideas in the comments as well. Against my better judgment, I watched a webinar today and those things should be called webathons, because you hope to drop dead before the sales pitch ends.

    Now I’m ready for a napathon : )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *