Gymnasium

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In Britain, a gymnasium/ (pronounced 'jim-NAZE-i-em', IPA: /dʒɪm 'neɪ zɪ əm/) is a large room or hall for indoor exercise, physical training or indoor (physical) games and sports. It is commonly spoken of as a gym. The plural of gymnasium is properly, to pedants who know classical languages, gymnasia, but gymnasiums is also used.

In many European countries, notably Germany, a Gymnasium (pronounced 'gim-NAHZ-i-oom', IPA: /gym 'nɑː zɪ ʊm/) is the most academic kind of secondary school.

Both of these meanings come down to the modern world from ancient Greece. Gymnasia were centres of education, in origin as the final stage of preparation of youths to serve as soldiers, as all men were expected to do in the city-states of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. They became more generally places of exercise for all male citizens, of all ages (hence the meaning in modern Britain): the Greeks gloried in physical beauty, and set a high store on personal development. The presence of older men seems to have led to their becoming centres of intellectual as well as physical development - though the distinction might have seemed strange to them. Above all, they became the centres of philosophical schools. Teachers such as Socrates and his successors used to discuss the matters of the day and philosophical questions while walking or sitting in the gymnasia: Plato's school was held in the gymnasium called the Academy, from which we get all the modern English academic words. Aristotle's school was known as the peripatetic school after the περίπατος (peripatos) or covered walk in the garden of a gymnasium called the Lyceum. (Like the gymnasium in Germany, this word has also come to be used for '[academic] secondary school', as lycée in France and liceo in Italy. In Britain, it is a not uncommon name for a theatre.) In due course, these gymnasia developed buildings (they had begun as open-air facilities, usually in a grove), and in the Greek cities of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) they had become courtyards with small rooms, adjacent to facilities such as running tracks for physical exercise. Hence the German type of gymnasium.

Etymological note: the Greek gymnasion (γυμνάσιον) is derived from γυμνάζεσθαι (gumnazesthai), a verb meaning 'to train naked'. This is formed from γυμνός (gumnos)‚ 'naked'. The Greek habit was for all men to take physical exercise in the nude.