Unsatisfied, I went home and did what any 21st century human would do; I went on a google-search safari. My first stop was USFSA's on-line glossary of skating terms. Guess what? It doesn't bother to list the word "check". I suppose their stance is if you need to ask about something this basic, you probably ought to forget about figure skating and take up stamp collecting.
Googling a little deeper, <about.com> wasn't all that informative either, saying only that "In figure skating, when a skater lands a jump or completes a turn, he or she checks the landing or checks the turn. Checking prevents the skater from continuing to turn or rotate once a jump or turn is completed." Don't you just love circular definitions?
Other on-line sources were equally vague and continued google-trolling quickly disintegrated into nonsense; disclosure: no porn sites were "surveyed" during the creation of this blog post. I was left wondering is there no source brave enough to define exactly what goes on during this mysterious "checking" business?
Karin Kunzle-Watson's Ice Skating Steps to Success talks about "turning within the arms". This description may be perfectly clear to some readers but it leaves your old diarist more, rather than less mystified.
Carole Shulman's The Complete Book of Figure Skating comes a bit closer in defining a check, stating that one checks "to stop or control rotation by reversing the arms against the hips".
Finally, turning to Robert S. Ogilvie's classic book Basic Ice Skating Skills I came across the following sentence in reference to a three turn: "Check is the reversal of the rotation that is deliberately set up to make the turn."
I read and reread different parts of each book, sifting through the words like a fortune teller examining tea leaves in an attempt to integrate these three statements. Maybe I should have dug out my "magic 8 ball".
Where did this consultation with the skating oracles leave me? For one thing, it made me realize that although check implies the ability to control rotational momentum, successfully obtaining that control is achieved by different means during each situation wherein one is handed the fleeting chance of either extinguishing left over rotation or quickly spiraling out of orbit.
Using Ogilive's example of a forward outside three turn, from personal experience I can report that successfully controlling this single foot turn requires different applications of "checking" depending on how much speed a skater is carrying into the turn. If I execute a FO3 at a pedestrian pace, a slight tweak of the shoulders might be all that's required. If I barrel into the same turn with a lot of heat the turn then requires careful control of the arms, the shoulders, the hips, keeping the chin up, remembering to smile, and oh yes, that free leg had better not drift around too much or I'll be forced to put the free skate down on the ice long before I originally intended. Unintentional "dropped 3s" don't git-ya where ya wanna go in terms of demonstrating control--especially during the Waltz Eight portion of the Pre-Bronze Moves test.
So, to a degree, the amount of speed or perhaps more accurately, the amount of momentum preceding the element dictates what the definition of "check" will be in that particular situation. Check then, is not a "one size fits all" kinda thing. It turns out to be a moving target. I'm going to need literally hundreds of check definitions. Let's see, there are six or so turns, each with eight family members, a half dozen single rotational jumps (forget about doubles; ain't happenin' in my lifetime), and several spins, all of which can be entered into with differing amounts of momentum. Yep, that's a whole lot of definitions. This is why no one but a foolish old diarist attempts to nail down the term.
So, I feel better for all that. Sort of. At least for the moment. Well, not really. The true skating hypochondriac is never far from his next demon...