Lately, whenever I talk about wrestling with non-fans, I’ve found I have to mind my language. This isn’t because I’m prone to cursing about the follies of the business (though I sometimes do). Instead, it’s because in recent years, my wrestling vocabulary has expanded tenfold.
I’ve learned more wrestling terms in the past decade than I had in the preceding two. Now, I know terms that would completely confuse non-fans and even some casual fans. Booking. Selling. Spots. Face. Heat. Swerve. Dusty finish. Some of these industry terms have existed for decades. Most aren’t new to me. Hearing and reading them in discussions about wrestling is, however.
All of this vocabulary has come to me through the internet. More than any other factor, it has changed the way fans watch and talk about wrestling. Superficial changes include the immediate access to archived matches and the swelling volume of wrestling history available in text. Deeper changes, such as storylines grounded in the lives of the performers, involve the very nature of the business.
The growth of the internet coincided with the exposure of the business (industry phrase) during the mid-to-late 90s. The cultural cynicism of the time along with the increasing speed of information helped bring about the demise of kayfabe (industry term). Fans sought a grittier product (annoying industry term). Meanwhile, they could access insider updates in a way print dirt sheets (yes, another industry term) couldn’t match. Within a few short years, wrestling looked different. The internet helped usher these changes in.
As fans got wiser, the language fans shared became more particular. Competitive sports have rich vocabularies used by insiders and fans. Wrestling is no different. Specific terminology is vital for discussing a business, a sport or an art form. What changed, with the help of the Internet, was the prevalence of this specific wrestling vernacular. No one I knew who followed wrestling in the 90s talked about “the Gorilla position” or about wrestlers “getting over.” Terms like these have become ubiquitous in wrestling discussions. Every blog uses them. They pop up in comment sections. For those who have followed wrestling for a few decades, think about how relatively new the use of this language is.
A phenomenon within a phenomenon, the rising popularity of shoot interviews and podcasts has, without a doubt, influenced the language of wrestling. Great wrestlers tend to be great talkers. Unsurprisingly, getting scoops from these colorful, real-life characters has become as fun for some fans as watching in-character performances. Rather than alienating us, the terminology used in these discussions has helped all of us watching or listening feel an intimate connection with wrestling. We’re in on something.
The Internet has done this for much more than wrestling. As much as it has helped connect people, it also has helped people gather into distinct virtual groups based on interest. The sometimes maligned Internet Wrestling Community was an early example of this. Presently, the entire sphere of wrestling fans could be considered one vast Internet Wrestling Community, because they find almost every scrap of information about wresting online.
Beyond influencing language, the Internet has changed attitudes about watching wrestling. For example, this year’s WrestleMania feels stale to me before it has happened because fans have been talking about the likely card for a year. Aside from tuning out of wrestling news and only watching the shows themselves, seeing wrestling stories is just going to happen. Notably, most of these stories now include mentions of “heel turns” and “jobbing.” How the times and terms have changed.
Even if the surprise factor has diminished, the change in language is for the better. Using the terminology might make fans talking among themselves sound like prototypical nerds to outsiders. Between fans, this parlance adds specificity to discussions and helps streamline communication. Whenever we talk about popping for a hot tag, rating a blade job on the Muta scale, or lamenting someone’s Five Moves of Doom, we do so with a sense that we’re part of a knowing community. This helps make wrestling something easier to enjoy and share.