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Have You Been Planking? Do You Owl? Did You Ever Teapot?

Yes, they really are verbs.

Every summer there is a new fad and the summer of 2011 is no exception.

Who would have thought that lying down—for God only knows how long—with arms tightly at the sides of your rigid body, would be this summer’s craze? It’s called “planking” and it has taken the summer of 2011 by storm.

Lie face down, arms at your side, fingers and legs pointed, body rigid. That’s it. Do it, and you’re done! While mimicking the style of a plank, some “plankers” have raised (or lowered) the act to another level by “creatively” planking in strange or unusual places.

Planking has been variously described as a practice that ultimately unites the world, a pointless internet craze, potentially dangerous, and just plain stupid. Once one is in planking position, a friend is enlisted to document the pose. The image is then uploaded and shared with the world via the Internet. This is critical since without the image, you’re just a person lying down.

There are about as many people claiming to have started the planking craze as there are photos of people planking. However, one thing is certain: contrary to some reports, planking is not a new phenomenon. Originally called the Lying Down Game, planking was reportedly invented 14 years ago by Brits Gary Clarkson and Christian Langdon, then 15 and 12. Out of boredom, the duo would perform the plank in public places, amusing one another and baffling onlookers. As Clarkson explained, "It was just a really stupid, random thing to do."

The transition from “The Lying Down Game” to “Planking” seems to have occurred more recently when it seemingly became a national pass time in Australia and photos of adherents went viral.

It seems as though everyone is planking—from your next door neighbors to A-list celebrities. Rapper Chris Brown recently tweeted a photo of his planking style to his followers as did teen heart throbJustin Bieber. Even uber playboy Hugh Hefner tweeted his planking prowess.

As with many practices, when taken to the extreme, things can sometimes go dangerously awry. Earlier this year, 20-year old Australian Acton Beale was working on getting plank poses to post on the Internet. As he lay down on a seventh-story balcony, he fell to his death. Despite planking’s huge global following, Beale is the only person on record to date to die from the craze. The Facebook group Global Planking boasts more than 116,000 likes, and it appears that, for all the sillyness it might involve, planking is considerably less fatal than .

Recently the planking craze has come under fire as critics have compared the practice with the manner of stowing African slaves upon the planks of a slave ships lower hold. In a tweet, entertainer Xzibit suggested that practitioners “educate themselves” to the racial overtones suggested by planking. While the Middle Passage did indeed consist of stacking slaves in unbearably tight quarters while transporting them to slavery, one would be hard pressed to draw a parallel between that horrific practice and individuals of all races voluntarily lying face down, having a photograph taken, and posting it online.

Like “flash mobs” before it, planking is certain to be just a passing phase. In fact, “owling,” “teapotting” and “batting” have been trying to make inroads into the planking craze—and not a moment too soon. With the summer days slowly waning, perhaps we will all be able to return to the more productive practices of reading, writing and studying. In the meantime, if you plank, do so responsibly.

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