Words, words words. Useful things words, but they convey different meanings to different people. There are seemingly endless arguments over the words nudist and naturist, nude and naked, ship and boat, etc. etc.
The trouble is, words do not have a “meaning”, there is no immutable attribute possessed by a word, it only takes on a meaning when used in context. As a result, there is no source of definitive English word meanings. That may come as a surprise to some.
The first mistake people make is to reach for the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary. Surely that has the definitive meaning of English words? After all it is quoted all over the place as an authority. It is indeed an authoritative work, but not for definitions, it only lists word usage. When James Murray began work on the OED in 1857, he along with the Philological Society of London and the Oxford University Press decided on the deliberate policy that the dictionary should never be written or attempt to be a source of definitions, this was seen as being to didactic. It made sound commercial sense, such a dictionary would not recognise the unstoppable changes in English and quickly become of date. Instead they chose to list all English words as found in use, both historical and contemporary and to show them in context by quoting where they had been found. They enlisted the help of a large number of people to submit “cards”, each card had a word and the context in which the word was used. These cards were assembled to create the first edition of the dictionary. The work continues and they still report the usage of words rather than trying to define them. Even the Concise editions contain words in context although the full edition is required to see all such quotes.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
The Kindle edition of the OED lists two uses of the word naturist, first “a person who goes naked in designated areas, a nudist” , second “a person who worships nature or natural objects” . Clearly, according to that, the word has meaning only in context. It also shows a real problem for those who seek to make a difference in the words nudist and naturist, one is used to help show the meaning of the other, i.e. the dictionary shows no clear definition or difference. It lists the word nudist (from the word nude) as “a person who engages in the practice of going naked wherever possible” , naked and nude used in the same “definition”.
The problem becomes acute when people speak of “true” naturists. This is just a way of saying “do they conform to my definition of the word” (there being no universal definition). That approach is not helpful to the rest of us who will of course hold a different view of the word. The arguments go back and forth over these meanings and all that is achieved is the taking of sides. There have been arguments over whether the WNBR, the World Naked Bike Ride is naturist or not. The facts are clear, most people ride without clothes and sex is not an issue. Does it really matter if one word does not encompass that behaviour and that of people who are members of naturist clubs? I do not believe it does matter except in one very narrow sense, the sheer utility of having one word that describes being without clothes in a non-sexual context (and avoiding the use of naked or nude!).
So if the words naturist and nudist cause trouble, is there an alternative? As Richard wrote on www.naktiv.net/naktiv.html, “Naktiv is the belief that being naked is acceptable in any context. Naktiv does not mean that people must be naked, naktiv means that people can be naked. Naktiv people may be naked in all public and private spaces, at all times and places, in all society contexts. Naktiv people are often strongly influenced by the original, enthusiastic and inspiring Gramers” . So could we use the word Naktiv? Of course, it would be very useful, but then we have to supply the text to put it into context then wait until it comes in use common enough to make it useful. We may have to wait some time.
To me naturist means “……” oh no, I will not fall into that trap, my meaning may not be the same as yours. As far as possible, I live without clothes, ride in the WNBR, join in debates over such a lifestyle, have friends who profess themselves to be naturists and other friends who go without clothes and insist they are not naturists.
As internet writer Robert Tedder wrote (link lost), "For me to regard myself as a nudist, I would also have to be a breathist, walkist, eatist, blue-eyesist, for while a motorist is someone who does driving, being without clothes is not something I do. It is my supposed natural state."
As well as promoting the Naktiv lifestyle, let’s end the definition wars.