Here's a question from a new user: About the word "race" when talking about bike headset

It looks unclear, and currently has four close votes for Please include the research you’ve done. It came up in the Review Queue, and I edited it.

This is the original, plus a minor edit from @KillingTime:

About the word "race" when talking about bike headset

I can't find any definition of "race" in its use for example on this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headset_(bicycle_part)

on Cambridge or Oxford dictionaries...

Someone can tell me where this word comes from ?

I gave it this edit:

Origin of the word "race" in the context of bearing races

The word "race" has the following definition, according to lexico.com:

  1. A smooth ring-shaped groove or guide in which a ball bearing or roller bearing runs.

Cambridge doesn't show this definition at all.

For example, it is used in bike jargon.

What is the origin of this meaning, and how did it derive?

If we assume this is what the OP meant, I think it's a fair question. "Race" has a lot of meanings and history, and I am curious where this meaning came from (I couldn't see it on Etymonline).

I think my edit is closer to what the OP wanted, however in respect to the four existing answers I have rolled it back.

It seems like people are interpreting the question as "please look this word up in the dictionary for me", but they said "Someone can tell me where this word comes from?", so I think not.

What's the best option?

  • Leave it as is, to get closed probably
  • Edit as per my edit, invalidating the existing answers
  • Ask a new question, and maybe close as a duplicate if that is what the OP meant
  • 1
    I’d say that the original question was “unclear and incomplete”. Assuming the OP is after the etymology of race in the context of bearing races, they should add the research in that respect, for instance etymonline.com/word/race#etymonline_v_3254, after which I think the question is a valid one.
    – user 66974
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 10:20
  • I think the edit was valid and could have been left. If the OP disliked it, they would have said, but it's my guess they won't be coming back. Were the 4 close votes cast before or after the edit? I think it was before, so maybe the edit was enough to save it from getting the 5th close vote.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 11:31
  • @Mari-LouA yep it was in review, with 4 close votes. I was about to close too, thought it might be salvaged. I didn't notice it had a load of answers until afterwards, and rolled back because of them really. Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 11:46
  • I'm asking about whether there's a precedent for editing questions that invalidates the answers, when the original question is fairly poor. Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 11:47
  • I don't think the edit really harmed the 4 answers; two answers had 1 upvote and two none. It's likely that the users would have seen the edit and decided to leave their original answer or expand on them.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 12:04

2 Answers 2


Here’s my side of things:

  • I saw the question (before any major edits) and wanted to quote some of the Wikipedia article for context.
  • I tried to do that but stopped when it looked like the edit would have answered the question, by having a link to a page with a definition of the term.
  • It was at that point that I voted to close the question, the fourth close vote on the question, I think for “needs research”. (What I chose probably couldn’t have made a difference as to what the close banner said as I believe all three votes were also for “needs research”.)
  • There was a shadow of a doubt in my mind if the question was also asking about etymology, so I left a comment in the hopes that OP would clarify things. (It really is strange that OP couldn’t find any definition, particularly when one answer was a definition from one of the sources that OP said didn’t have the definition.)

To answer your question: I think that we need to be more confident that it’s an etymology question before drastically editing it like that. Looking at two of the answers in particular, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who saw this as a question of meaning. But if OP clarified that they were asking about the etymology of the term it would be fine with me to reapply the drastic edit and reopen the question.

It’s not so much about invalidating existing answers (you’re not supposed to answer unclear questions for that very reason), it’s about the possibility that OP could come back and say that it wasn’t an etymology question at all, which would make it even harder to decide what the correct moderation decision would be, not to mention it would be a little unfair to anyone who thought they were answering a clear etymology question because of the edit.

  • That's reasonable, nice to hear your side too. As Mari-Lou says, the chances of the OP coming back are slim. Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 14:46
  • 1
    I already said that the original question was “unclear and incomplete” but the last sentence by the OP “Someone can tell me where this word comes from” can hardly be taken by a request of meaning.
    – user 66974
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 17:15
  • And remember, if anyone does want an etymology question, they can always ask their own rather than transforming some other user's question. Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 2:44

If we assume this is what the OP meant,

That is what should have been done. Despite the poor syntax, we have

Can someone tell me where this word comes from?

I can’t see that there is much that is unclear about that.

It is not a matter of whether or not the OP comes back – EL&U is creating a reference source, so, for what it’s worth:

The word starts in English as a rush of water and/or the channel that contains it. The use of “race” is then split into the several attributes of speed and power, and a channel or pathway:

OED Race1 (n.)

Etymology: < early Scandinavian (compare Old Icelandic rás , Norwegian regional rås , Swedish regional rås running, rush (of water), course, channel, way), cognate with rese n.

I. With reference to a person, animal, etc.: forward progression, running, or movement; an instance of this.

†1. A rush, onset, charge; a raid. Obsolete.

c1330 (▸?a1300) Arthour & Merlin (Auch.) (1973) 3990 (MED) Wiþ gret ras King Ban þai hitten alle at ones. [King Ban rushed them all at once.]

And about the same time:

II. A path, channel, or course, and related senses.

5.†a. The course, line, or path taken by a person or a moving body. Also figurative. Obsolete.

c1390 (▸c1300) MS Vernon Homilies in Archiv f. das Studium der Neueren Sprachen (1877) 57 274 (MED) To toune I renne þe deueles ras. [To town, I ran along the Devil's path]

There then developed the idea of a figurative sense of a narrow path:

†4.a. figurative or in figurative context: a person's progress through life or some part of it. Obsolete. The metaphor of life as a [competative] race is now more commonly understood as the figurative use.

a1450 (▸c1412) T. Hoccleve De Regimine Principum (Harl. 4866) (1897) 1448 (MED) I whilom þoghte Han ben a prest; now past am I þe raas. [I had thought for a while that He was a priest, I am now persuaded [that He is] the pathway (through/of) life]

As water-power became more popular:

>5.b. A channel or bed (of a stream); spec. an artificial channel leading water to or from a point where its energy is utilized, as in a mill or a mining claim. head-, mill-, tail-race: [etc.]

1570 in J. Raine Depositions Courts Durham (1845) 212 The [law-] suit..for the raic [e] of the said water corne myln. [The [law suit..for the race of the said water-powered corn mill.]

The change from a straight or direct pathway/channel to a circular one did not arise until quite late:

OED at "wheel"

Compounds C1:

wheel-race n. the part of a mill-race in which the mill-wheel is fixed.

1825 ‘J. Nicholson’ Operative Mechanic 104 The wheel-race should always be built in a substantial manner with masonry.

And then, with the invention of ball- and roller-bearings:

8.c. Mechanics. Either of the two grooved rings between which run the balls of a ball bearing or the rollers of a roller bearing. Recorded earliest in ball race (see ball n.1 Compounds 2), roller race (see roller n.1 Compounds 5).

1896 Bangor (Maine) Daily Whig & Courier 13 Nov. 4/4 One of the novelties that will be sure to attract attention at the coming bicycle shows is an ingenious arrangement for conducting oil to the ball race.

Thus we can see that, in the sense of head-race, "Head" = highest; most important (Cf "headmaster") and the word "race" has returned to (or never left) its origins of being "a constraining channel through which something rushes", i.e. the bearings.

  • 1
    Wait...you're one of the close voters, but you're answering it? But you're answering it here? Why not vote to reopen then?
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:18

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