Monday, June 13, 2011

What Do You Call that Thing where Two People Step Back and Forth Trying to Pass Each Other?

I’m not a big fan of crowds, but I’m not scared of them. Nope, no agoraphobia here. I function perfectly fine; I don’t panic, and I don’t get angry. Regardless, I try to avoid the mall and large social functions, and it’s not because of long lines or rude people. In actuality, I’m just worried that I’m going to end up doing that stepping-side-to-side thing that you do when you encounter someone walking straight towards you.

You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s a universal phenomenon, experienced by all peoples around the globe. Why, I’d even bet that those South American tribes that aggressively fire arrows at helicopters have this issue. It might even happen to deer walking around in the woods. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s what happens:

You’re walking somewhere, and someone is walking directly toward you. You both need to get to a destination immediately behind the other person. Often, one of you will move out of the way the other. In half the situations where both people are considerate, you’ll both move to the side in opposite directions and continue on your paths. But in the other half of situations involving mutually considerate people, you’ll both step in the same direction.

“Oops!” both brains think at the exact same time, “We’re still coming right at each other. Better step to the opposite side.” Now you’re both moving to the other side, and still right in front of each other. Usually this step side-to-side motion only lasts for two or three rounds before one of you relents and stands still to let the other one move past you. I’ve had this stupid phenomenon go on as many as six rounds recently.

God, I hate that. It makes me feel stupid, because now I’ve had to share a mutually embarrassing situation with a complete stranger that I didn’t want anything to do with in the first place. Especially if I’m in a rush, I’ll come dangerously close to invading the other person’s personal space, as if we went from anonymous individuals on a path to bizarre dance partners suddenly.

I’ve come to realize that there’s no good word that exists to describes this concept. This is odd to me, because I can guarantee that even Socrates contemplated it at some point. Fortunately, there’s Urban Dictionary, which covers pretty much any concept you can think of with user-suggested terminology and definitions. Let’s explore the candidates:

  • Awkward Dance (10 thumbs up)
  • Blisterfeld (1 up, 7 down, -6 total)
  • Dezing (8 thumbs up)
  • Eldon (11 up, 16 down, -5 total)
  • Florange (8 up, 8 down, 0 total)
  • Indicisajig (9 thumbs up)
  • Palabnob (2 thumbs up)
  • Same-stepping (6 thumbs up)
  • Sidewalk Boogie (3 thumbs up)
  • Stranger Dancing (3 thumbs up)
  • Supermarket Shuffle (7 thumbs up)
  • Walkenshloffen (92 up, 1 down, 91 total)

With twelve entries, we clearly need to settle on a word. And as further proof that this concept is in dire need of naming, I’ll bet that you’ve never heard any of these terms before. What we need is a name that is descriptive of the occurrence, but emphasizes the side-to-side motion or the similarity to dancing. Right away I’ll have to eliminate the most nonsensical terms. This leaves us with:

  • Awkward Dance
  • Indicisajig
  • Same-stepping
  • Sidewalk Boogie
  • Stranger Dancing
  • Supermarket Shuffle
  • Walkenshloffen

I’m keeping the last one because it’s partially descriptive and wholly embraced by the Urban Dictionary community (also known as 13-year-olds.) Some of these, though, could still be misconstrued to mean other things. “Sidewalk Boogie,” for example, could indicate some sort of spontaneous public dancing; “Stranger Dancing” and “Supermarket Shuffle” both conjure similar imagery. “Awkward Dance” is something that I do anywhere, any time I attempt to dance. We’ll have to cut all of these. This means our finalists are:

  • Indicisajig
  • Same-stepping
  • Walkenshloffen

Indicisajig is a decent term; it describes the confusion of the situation while mocking its dance-like quality. It’s a weird mashup, but we’ve seen weirder words make it into the Oxford Dictionary recently. However, I don’t quite think it’ll catch on. Maybe as a slang term.

Same-stepping is my favorite choice, but clearly not the UD community’s. It’s an evolution of the term you would use if you were the only one to get out of the way (you would “side-step” the person coming at you) and it therefore makes a lot of sense. Calling it “stepping” is also a good way to tie in the dance aspect as well.

Walkenshloffen is pretty much a nonsense word, though it sounds German. However, even if “shloffen” was a German word, “walken” means “to tumble,” so the term doesn’t make any sense in that regard. I think if you were saying “Man, I just walkenshloffed with someone in the hallway,” no one would know what you were saying. But there’s some merit to this term getting more than eight times the votes of the second place term on UD!

What do you think? I feel like we could end up saying “Man, I hate side-stepping with people at the mall.” It’d be a lot better than saying “I just did that thing where you try to pass someone while walking toward them but they go the same direction as you and then you both go the same direction again, and then—you know what I’m talking about? Never mind.”

Feel free to choose from any of the above, or submit your own.


  1. AnonymousJune 13, 2011

    Sorry, I like indicisajig. I don't know why, it's funny.

  2. Stewart S.June 15, 2011

    Samestepping is the most descriptive out of the list. What about blockwalking?

  3. I call this tepping.

  4. Rady J MccarthyNovember 07, 2011

    I think this name should be call the ''el swardo''

  5. Its called parallel synchronized randomness, or P.S.R. If you've seen the movie"The science of sleep" its talked about at length in that movie :)

  6. Its called parallel synchronized randomness, or P.S.R. If you've seen the movie"The science of sleep" its talked about at length in that movie :)