I heard a friend refer to an athlete’s musculature as “shredded” a few days ago, and I couldn’t get over what an absurd word that was to describe a well-developed physique.  How the word bore absolutely no relation to either the form or the function of the body in question.  And my mind started spinning on the question of why….why has such a word entered into even occasional usage, and where the *heck* did it come from?

It might be possible to do this in a scholarly manner.  Work to determine the first print usage of “shredded” describing physique, search for use of related adjectives in the same article, trace them backwards, etc.  But this is inconvenient whilst one is brushing teeth.

Brains being brains, they do their own behind-the-scenes connecting, and this was my personal resolution of the mental discord while scrubbing the old pearly whites.

Shredded generally refers to the state of being torn, rent, of something having been separated into lots of little pieces.  So it’s a more dramatic form of ripped. Aha!  Here we have a track back to another word in the fitness lexicon! But ripped still doesn’t make much sense when talking about fit bodies.  I’m left with images of separated achilles and crippling hamstring injuries.  Uuurghhh.  But the brain is still spinning, burning clock time mining the internal thesaurus.  Ripped: less controlled, more raw act of dividing something.  Bisect.  Wound.  Draw-and-quarter.  Slash.  Pillage….no, no, wrong direction.  Refocus.  If I was angry or rushed I might tear a rag, or a bandage, or rip off a piece of tape instead of cutting it.  Win.  Cut.  Pause to spit toothpaste.  But no, really, while this is surely another valid term, used by any high school male to describe the body he wishes he had, why, why on earth someone refer to muscles as cut?  (Why have I referred to muscles as cut?  Because really, I’m far more of a linguistic cultural lemming than I’d like to admit…)  Cut, cut….ok…  Is cutting an edgier form of another process?  Edgier…haha….But wait!  Actually, yes!  BAM.  Lightbulb.  Chiseled. Marble sculpture.  The idealized masculine form.  Statuary.  Michaelangelo.  Rome.  Greece.  The Olympians.  Bingo.  Because cutting, stonecutting, actually is a synonym for cold chisel work in stone.

The funnier part, though: the imagined dialogue of one-upsmanship running through my head as I switched out lights and climbed into bed.

“Man, my deltoids are chiseled.”
“Oh yeah?  Well my abs are cut.”
“Hah!  But check out my ripped pecs…”
“Man, y’all got nothin’.  Look at these
shredded bi…….