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planking

noun [uncountable]

the activity of lying face-down in an unusual location and being photographed

plank

verb [intransitive]

planker

noun [countable]

'All around the world people have started planking – lying face-down, stiff, and expressionless across … weird and dangerous places, then posting pics of their stunts online.'

Defamer, Australia 16th May 2011

'Julia Gillard urged plankers to consider safety implications of their pastime which involves lying face down in unusual locations …'

Guardian 16th May 2011

'In Australia, a new Facebook page has attracted over 10,000 fans and counting. The page is home to hundreds of photos of people who have planked in various places around the country, including over train tracks, escalators, desks, fire hydrants and motorbikes.'

Sky News, Australia 13th May 2011

Up until recently, the word plank referred only to a flat, unremarkable piece of wood, but thanks to a bizarre new fad sweeping the globe, it's now taken on a metaphoric interpretation and spawned a derivative or two along the way. Planking is a new word coined to refer to the activity of being photographed lying face-down – not that inspiring you might think, until you see exactly where that person is lying face-down. Check out this link and you'll get the idea …

the crucial thing about planking is … to find the most original location possible … the weirder the location, the better

People who engage in the activity of planking lie face-down with their arms by their sides, in a rigid, 'plank-like' pose, and get a friend to photograph them, usually with the intention of posting the resulting snapshot on the Internet. However the crucial thing about planking is that, in order to capture the attention of fellow planking enthusiasts, it's essential to find the most original location possible. This means that participants, dubbed plankers, are photographed lying outstretched on parked cars, rubbish bins, rooftops, office photocopiers, post boxes, ironing boards, or whatever novel surface they can manage to balance their body horizontally on or across. In the world of planking, the weirder the location, the better. Plankers are becoming increasingly ambitious, not only targeting well-known landmarks, but also precarious and downright dangerous positions in order to get that jaw-dropping image.

Though planking started out as a bit of innocent, light-hearted fun, it is this competitive aspect of it, fuelled by postings on social media sites, that has brought it into the spotlight. The activity first hit the headlines when a young man was arrested for planking on a police car in Queensland, Australia. However the urge to find ever more outlandish locations had far more serious consequences when it resulted in the tragic death of a 20-year-old, who fell when attempting a planking stunt across a narrow balcony rail on a high-rise building in Brisbane. This incident, the first known planking fatality, has led to a series of highly-publicized warnings about the dangers of taking the activity too far.

Background – planking

The activity noun planking was coined in Australia in 2011, though the concept underlying the fad dates back to the late nineties, and was previously known as the lying down game in Britain where it was invented by then-teenagers Gary Clarkson and Christian Langdon. The game went global in late 2007 when Clarkson and Langdon created a Facebook group dedicated to the activity.

The craze has also led to a new verbal use of plank, mainly intransitively and with an adverbial/prepositional phrase as in e.g. He planked on the school roof. However in Australian sources there's some evidence for transitive use, with the surface that the person lies on forming the object of the verb, so that we see examples like She planked her couch/a parked car.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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Read last week's BuzzWord. Superinjunction.

This article was first published on 23rd May 2011.

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