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There is no single definition of juggling that everyone agrees on. Different jugglers have different ideas of what exactly juggling is and how it should be defined, and may disagree on whether a certain activity is "juggling" or not.

There are different senses of the word "juggling"; a person might use the same word to mean a wide category of activities (i.e., object manipulation), or to mean a certain type of activity within that category (i.e., toss juggling), or to mean doing that activity and making a certain number of catches (i.e., qualifying). (The terms "object manipulation", "toss juggling", and "qualifying" are also somewhat ambiguous.)

"Juggling" was originally a very general term for any kind of entertainment, and its meaning has gotten more specific over time. The meaning changed to focus on activities involving skilled object manipulation, then to exclude entertainment involving illusions, and now the term is often used to mean only a specific type of object manipulation that can be loosely described as "throwing and catching more objects than hands used".

The word also has figurative meanings that have little to do with actual skilled object manipulation, such as multi-tasking, fumbling, and deception.

Types of definitions Edit

  • A descriptive definition is meant to report how people use a term. If a descriptive definition of a term disagrees with how people actually use the term, the definition is wrong.
  • A prescriptive definition is meant to tell people how they should use a term. In a prescriptivist view, if a definition of a term disagrees with how people actually use the term, those people are wrong. Prescriptive definitions can be used to help people understand each other by making sure everyone is using a term to mean the same thing.
  • A stipulative definition is a prescriptive definition that is only meant to apply in the context of a specific discussion, and doesn't necessarily say anything about how a term is used or should be used in general.

Dictionary definitions Edit

Dictionary.com (Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary) Edit

  • Juggle: To keep (several objects, as balls, plates, tenpins, or knives) in continuous motion in the air simultaneously by tossing and catching.
  • Juggle: To perform feats of manual or bodily dexterity, as tossing up and keeping in continuous motion a number of balls, plates, knives, etc.

Merriam-Webster Edit

Juggle: To perform the tricks of a juggler.
Juggler: One skilled in keeping several objects in motion in the air at the same time by alternately tossing and catching them.

OxfordDictionaries.com Edit

Juggle: Continuously toss into the air and catch (a number of objects) so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others.

Wiktionary Edit

  • Juggling: The art of moving objects, such as balls, clubs, beanbags, rings, etc. in an artful or artistic manner.
  • Juggle: To manipulate objects, such as balls, clubs, beanbags, rings, etc. in an artful or artistic manner. Juggling may also include assorted other circus skills such as the diabolo, devil sticks, hat, and cigar box manipulation as well.
  • Juggle: To throw and catch each prop at least twice, as opposed to a flash.

Definitions proposed by jugglers Edit

Objections:
  • Should it be considered juggling if the objects are manipulated in such a way that there is no risk of dropping, and no need to hurry to make the next throw?
  • A 1 or 2 object trick done with two hands would not be juggling by this definition, but an identical trick (or even a simpler trick) done using something other than the hands (such as the feet) would be considered juggling.
  • Is [33][33]0 juggling any more than 330 is? There don't just need to be more objects than hands; there needs to always be an incoming object that forces you to make another throw before you catch it.
  • Why should 6011, a variation of the 2 in one hand juggling pattern, not be considered juggling?
  • This definition excludes many activities that some jugglers consider to be forms of juggling, such as contact juggling, plate spinning, and poi.
  • Doing that which doesn't need to be done in the most difficult way possible.
Objections:
  • This definition includes activities that no one would consider to be juggling, such as "running the London Marathon dragging a millstone by a rope around your neck".
  • This definition seems to exclude juggling that is not particularly difficult, such as a basic 3 ball cascade.
  • There is always a more difficult way that it's (at least theoretically) possible to do a juggling trick.
  • If you do need to juggle for some reason, it is no longer considered juggling by this definition.
  • Juggling is what jugglers do and non-jugglers don't do.
Objections:
  • This is a useless circular definition. You can't make sense of it unless you already know what "juggling" or "juggler" means.
  • There are activities that only jugglers tend to do, but that are not actually juggling, such as making juggling videos or having discussions on juggling forums.

Erik Åberg Edit

This is a descriptive definition of the genre of juggling. It is meant to report how the term is generally used (using juggling literature, experts, and iconic examples as sources), regardless of whether some individuals (including the writer of the definition) personally disagree with that usage. It is meant to be a description of juggling that can work for everyone. It is meant to describe the fact that people disagree on which activities are juggling without participating in the disagreement.

Juggling is a genre of related activities. The word "juggling" can represent either the genre or an activity of that genre. The activities are usually skill-based demonstrations of object manipulation, but it is not these characteristics that are conclusive in whether something is juggling or not. Historically, juggling in its default form is throwing and catching using the hands in repetitive cycles, with at least one object more than the amount of hands. This pattern has become known as the cascade.
The nature of juggling is similar to the nature of a melody. Both are defined by the composition between their components, and not by the components themselves. A melody is not a single note; juggling is not a single throw. With this understanding, we can resist falling into the trap of seeing components of juggling as juggling. A tire of a car is not a car; it's a tire. The same goes for juggling. A throw is not juggling; it's a throw. A throw can be juggling if it's combined with something, or in some other way placed into the context of the default form. The most common example of this is when several objects are thrown continuously in a juggling pattern, such as a three ball cascade. Then the combination of components and the specific way they are combined make them belong into the category of juggling. A throw of one object without other objects or additional throws could be juggling if it is part of a certain context, such as a juggling performance.
The crucial aspect of the context is that it is in a relevant relation to the default form. All activities that belong in juggling are related to the default form in some way. That is their common link. Juggling is the default form, plus everything that is put into the context of the default form by, among other things, mimicking, referencing, expanding on, being influenced by, or in some other way relating, concretely or abstractly, to the default form. If that context is removed, so is the connection to juggling.

Notes:

  • It is commonly known that the ability to juggle is achieved by practice. If the juggler is using secrets, such as gimmicks or hidden apparatus, the juggling is not considered to be authentic. It may still exist within the genre of juggling, but will be pushed to the periphery, or over the edge into the genre of magic.
  • If there is another genre that has a stronger connection to the subject than juggling, the subject will be placed in that genre, and not in juggling. If a subject has a strong enough cultural identity of its own, it can be independent, and will not be referred to as juggling.

The short version (which requires the background knowledge of the full definition to really understand) is:

Juggling is a genre of activities which are related to the default form. The default form of juggling is the 3 ball cascade.

Objection: This definition doesn't clearly specify how activities need to be related. Anything could be considered to be distantly related to the three ball cascade in some way. So this definition may not be very useful for distinguishing between what is or is not juggling, but that's not the purpose of this definition. This definition is meant to describe how the word "juggling" is in fact currently used. If people use the word vaguely and can't agree on what it means, a vague definition is an accurate description of that situation.

(If you want to discuss this definition, go here.)

Steve Bennett Edit

The continuous throwing and catching of objects such that at least one object is in the air at any moment in time.

Objections:

  • Is the siteswap 600 juggling any more than 42022 is? When you're juggling, you're not just trying to keep something in the air at all times; you also have to try to avoid having too many objects held in one hand at a time.
  • Juggling can be done by rolling objects so they're not actually "in the air".

Andrew Conway Edit

"Juggling" is the intersection of the set of object manipulation requiring a lot of practice, and the set of things happening in jugglers' acts.

Objections:

  • Some juggling acts can include other skills that involve manipulating objects and require a lot of practice, but aren't generally thought of as juggling. Do those skills become juggling just because jugglers use them in their acts?
  • Does a skill not become "juggling" until a juggler does it in a performance? If a skill that could have been part of a juggling act is never actually used in a performance, does that make it not juggling?
  • Some basic juggling skills don't require much practice, at least for some people. Does that mean those skills aren't actually juggling?
  • This definition uses the word "jugglers" to define juggling, so it's a circular definition unless you also specify a definition of "juggler" that doesn't rely on the word "juggle" or "juggling".

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