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Thanks to a recent question on ELL, I discovered a new meaning of spot. User @John Feltz defined it as:

In a gym, to "spot" for someone means to help them with heavy weights

The Oxford Dictionary Online defines the verb:

1.4 (in weight training, gymnastics, etc.) observe (a performer) in order to minimize the risk of accidents or injuries.

Now, I understand that the verb to spot, meaning to see, pick out, or identify something, is derived from the noun spot, usually a small dark roundish mark or stain. Imagine seeing a ‘spot’ in a distance, if you can identify what it is, your eyesight must be very good. From there the leap to the British English trainspotter is relatively brief. To spot a train didn't mean to "see" a train coming, it meant finding, and collecting steam trains' numbers, and their names. It was a fascinating hobby for British schoolboys and grown-up men during the 1950s and '60s (ahem...)

But in the US, how did spot mean to help someone not hurt him or herself in the gym? I don't spot the connection.

  • This is not only with weights. It also very much used in gymnastics at practices and aerial acts. The spotter spots the athlete by standing in such a manner that the latter can catch her/him or break his/her fall. There is also aerial spotting for aerialist and also spotting belts (for that and for uneven high-bar gymnastics). The belts attach to other equipment and prevent injuries from falling. – Lambie Apr 15 at 13:15
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Another meaning of spot X is "to watch out for anything bad happening to X," usually implying that you will warn or help them if trouble develops.

Searching for this word on Google reveals this interesting etymological fact:

Middle English: perhaps from Middle Dutch spotte . The sense ‘notice, recognize’ arose from the early 19th-century slang use ‘note as a suspect or criminal.’

So you can see how that meaning of "notice, recognize" can translate to "to watch out for anything bad happening to X."

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    Dare I say it? But I think you're "spot" on :) – Mari-Lou A Sep 22 '16 at 19:41
  • The usage in gymnastics is relatively recent; the OED's earliest citation is from 1934. (Recent to me, anyway...) – P. E. Dant Sep 23 '16 at 5:04

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