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noun [countable]

a competitor in a four-yearly international sports event for people with physical disabilities



'After a nerve-wracking final the 49-year-old became a gold medallist for the second consecutive time in the women's 10m SH1 air pistol … But the seven-times Paralympian still was not totally satisfied.'

BBC Sport 19th September 2004

'The 16 Paralympian sports in which Britain is competing have received £8.9m, compared with £56.7m for the Olympic sports.'

The Guardian 17th October 2000

From 17th to 28th September 2004, over 4000 athletes, with ages ranging from 11 to 66, are taking part in the second largest international sporting event in the world – The Paralympic Games. In Athens, Greece, physically disabled athletes, referred to as Paralympians, are participating in 19 different sports, including the new categories of five-a-side blind football, sitting volleyball for women, and quads wheelchair tennis.

the first summer Paralympic competition was held in 1960 in Rome, and the first winter competition in Sweden in 1976

The competition in Athens is the twelfth Paralympic Summer Games, the official equivalent of the Olympics for athletes with physical disabilities, including those with visual disabilities and Cerebral Palsy. The first summer Paralympic competition was held in 1960 in Rome, and the first winter competition in Sweden in 1976. Subsequent competitions have been held every four years, and in 2001, an agreement was signed between the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, stating that the Paralympic Games would always be held alongside the Olympic Games.

Although the term Paralympics and a derived adjective Paralympic have been around since the 1950s, when the competition was first conceived, the countable noun Paralympian, referring to a competitor in the event (and also used adjectivally as a variant of paralympic), has only in recent years begun to enter some dictionaries of English, despite plenty of evidence for popular use.

Background – Paralympian

The term Paralympian as a derivative of Paralympic(s) is, of course, modelled on the word Olympian as a derivative of Olympic(s), used to refer to a competitor in the games.

The term Paralympics was coined in the 1950s as a blend of Olympics and the word paraplegic, a noun referring to someone who cannot move the parts of the body below the waist. The prefix para- within this word is of Greek origin, and in fact means 'beside', featuring in words such as paralysis, from the Greek paralusis meaning 'be disabled at the side'.

The prefix's original meaning of 'beside' has been extended into a variety of contexts. It often relates to the idea of something having an auxiliary or subsidiary function, as in words such as paramedic or paramilitary. Another popular interpretation is 'beyond' or 'distinct from' as in paranormal.

The appearance of what looks like the same prefix in words such as parasol and parachute in fact traces back to completely different origins. Here para- derives from the Italian parare, meaning 'defend' or 'shield'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 20th September 2004.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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