“What Do You Call Gym Shoes?”


I had so much fun with the difference between lightning bug and firefly that I looked to see what other interesting word maps I could find. The one above particularly appealed to me since I run into this distinction quite commonly. Participants were asked “what is your “general” term for the rubber-soled shoes worn in gym class, for athletic activities,etc?” The answers shown above varied from tennis shoes(red) to  sneakers(blue) and gymshoes(light blue.)

I grew up calling them sneakers although I lived in a very “tennis shoe” part of the United States. (Oregon is the second state down from the top on the far left of the map.) Now that I live in New England I still call them sneakers and am easily understood. (New England is the upper right side of the map in nearly solid blue.) My mother grew up in “sneaker” New York, so I guess I learned the term from her. I remember being very confused as a kid by the term “tennis shoes” and thought they must be something special for playing tennis!

I am very curious to know what these shoes are called around the world. I was just watching “Broadchurch” on Netflix, and the little boy’s shoes were called trainers. I am not sure if these are the same as sneakers or not. Please let me know what word is commonly used where you live.

Thanks for supporting my lifelong fascination with who uses which words where.(That was one alliterative sentence!)

24 thoughts on ““What Do You Call Gym Shoes?”

    1. I realize that I never knew what plimsole meant in all the times I read English literature. I never took the time to find out either. I have a dreadful suspicion that I thought it was a kind of umbrella.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As Tan says above, (o below) they were generally called ‘Plimsolls’ or ‘Pumps’ in my youth.
    But they had no laces, were always black, and very ‘rubbery’. We had to wear them for Gym, in school.
    Then we later had ‘Baseball Boots’, (Converse) which were canvas ‘high-tops’, with long laces.
    Since the late 1970s, ‘Trainers’ or ‘Training Shoes’ is the common term here, for all sports shoes of any type. I have some Skechers slip-ons with memory foam soles. They are sold as ‘Trainers’ here.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. In the UK, trainers are the things you pay too much money for (Nike, Converse, Adidas, etc). When my (4) kids were at school, I used to buy them plimsoles from Woolworths for their games lessons. These were very cheap pull-ons with an elastic panel on the front and no fastenings. They were mostly black, although white ones appeared later. Their rubber soles extended about an inch up the canvas-y material of the uppers.
    Apparently they were called plimsoles after the plimsole line on ships and for the same reason – they were waterproof up to the plimsole line.


  3. Plimsolls and pumps in Scotland and Wales. Well in the 60s and 70s at least. By the time I was buying them they had changed into trainers and their price had changed from £5 to £90


  4. Here in Australia, we have tennis shoes that are white & were originally used to play tennis (today they come in all colors & are a fashion trend!)…
    Then we had gym boots (lace up, ankle height made from canvas) which I had a pair of in high school for gym activities. These too are now fashion trends.
    Then in the 70’s & 80’s in the aerobic age craze Niké & Adidas bought out runners, trainers & joggers here, which were all terms for modern jogging/running shoes. Some were just known as Nikés!
    I call them my walking shoes 😉
    Bless you,


  5. In Jamaica, we have 2 names for them. The cloth material ones we call crepes, like the food. I don’t know why. The ones made from tougher material that tend to be bigger with the fancy designs, we call those sneakers.


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