What Does that Mean? Tommy John Surgery Enters the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Stan. Swole. EGOT. Tommy John surgery.

Somewhere between the letter “A” and Zyzzogeton, Merriam-Webster this month updated the heftiness of its storied pages, adding 640 new words that we can all—WAIT, WHAT?!

Tommy John…surgery?


And so…so, it is. Planet Earth can now use, without judgment from scholastic sticklers and picky wordsmiths, the name synonymous with Ulnar Collateral Reconstruction surgery and not fail the vocabulary test.

This is major news—if Scrabble is your thing.

But is this something that the actual Tommy John—the longtime MLB pitcher—thinks is worthy of such high praise? After all, this doesn’t pay homage to his career (four-time All-Star, 288 wins). His left-handed mastery (2245 punchouts). It’s not a status symbol, nor does it legally fit on a license plate or add instant bragging rights—like, “Hey man, that guy is SO swole he must’ve had Tommy John surgery!”

Nope, this surgery. More so, this is now a surgery that is affecting kids as young as nine—yep, NINE!

His son, Dr. Tommy John, a collaborator with YSPN360 and author of Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance: A Sports Parent’s Survival Guide, took to the social media world after the news was released. And he echoed the stat mentioned above, highlighting it as a critical and usually overlooked point.

The youth. Tommy John surgery is being performed on youth athletes. That wasn’t the sentence Merriam-Webster used to help define the term:

We’ll stop here for a moment, take a breath, and let the keypad cool.

Yes, this level of dissection of an otherwise exciting pop-culture gesture might be taking it too seriously. Too much. Are we enabling the idea that the internet can’t have nice things? You could say that. Should we be thrilled that such a well-known Words Establishment has included a colleague’s namesake in infamy, with a real possibility of one day ending up in the Spelling Bee? Yeah, you could say that too.

But the point here, the reasoning, is that the information about the surgery stopped with just that—the surgery. Nowhere during the tweets, retweets and blog posts did anyone mention that this procedure is happening in youth sports.

Until now, with this blog post. Because, to us, the conversation happening misses the point. It doesn’t paint the proverbial “whole picture.” And that’s the conversation YSPN360 wants to have…the whole picture. So, we reached out to Dr. Tommy John to get a more in-depth understanding of this (Dubious? Great? TBD?) honor.

Regardless of your personal opinion about that response—any of it, really— a “yes” or a “no,” there is one silver lining: this amount of attention about Tommy John surgery will help educate the parents, the coaches, the trainers, everyone involved with youth sports, about this issue.

Educating, as you know, is very on-brand for Merriam-Webster—which, ironically, is also one of the new words.


A special thanks to Dr. Tommy John for taking the time to do this interview. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see all of the incredible work he is doing for youth sports.

Contributor: Rick Suter, YSPN360 Editor

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