Naturist or Nudist?

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.

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10 thoughts on “Naturist or Nudist?”

  1. At an early age a friend told me that his family were nudists, this was my first introduction to the way of life. After discovering that I loved this nudist way of life I've referred to myself as a nudist. I know many other nudists and naturists, they are all the same to me, people who enjoy being clothes free. Other people interpret these two words differently, as is their right to do so.

    If I am with 'naturists' I sometimes find myself with the conundrum of talking about our naturist life with them, I 'stumble' occasionally and use the term nudist. Sometimes I've been picked up on the use of that word, not often, but my explanation of seeing us as the same does not always get agreement, but that is fine by me.

    On the other hand I cannot recall 'nudists' picking up on the use of the word naturist in the same way. Maybe this is an experiment to do, use the alternative in conversations to whichever 'label' others apply to both themselves and our preference for nakedness. I don't recall a poll here o this subject of 'labels', I'll scroll through them and set up one if my memory is right.

    Some naturists say to me that naturists enjoy the freedom to be nude in natural places. This is an experience I fully appreciate, but I appreciate it as a nudist!

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  2. A very thoughtful piece. It has made me think about my own position to these words.
    I suppose the bottom line is that as long as we use a word that the general public recognise, that's better than using something that they don't. So, sadly, Naktiv isn't going to work because no-one (hardly) knows that word (and how do you pronounce it??)
    But to use either 'naturist' or 'nudist' gets the concept out in the public domain, that there are people who live with their clothes off. And that is the important thing, that it be recognised as a vaild lifestyle

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  3. I am a person who enjoys nudism. I say I am a nudist so that the general idea will explain what I like to do. However it does not seem to come up in normal conversation so most people do not know, nor do I care if they did. I know who I am and that is good enough for me no matter the definition.

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  4. Yes, I agree that using Naktiv as an adjunct to naturist/nudist is not especially helpful when saying "I am <insert definition here>". The Gramers used it to define their lifestyle, and in so far as there is a word to describe mine, I am pleased to use theirs. So often though, when people ask about my naked activities they say: "oh, you're a naturist then?" I usually nod and mutter "kind of" quietly to myself 🙂

    Truthfully there's little value in correcting people on the finer definitions, and even if there were, what's the point. The WNBR is not the World Nudist Bike Ride or even the World Clothing-Optional Bike Ride. Again, what's the point of being pedantic about a lifestyle choice which is about freedom? Naktiv is (I think) appropriately descriptive for this site, and I hope it makes sense to most people in context, if not everyone quite gets precisely what it is supposed to mean. I liken it to a slightly strange name like google -> what's that all about anyway ?) (I know but it doesn't matter).

    I really do like that quote from Tedder. Words can free us, there is no need for restraints, either textile or textual.

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