The Difference between Spelunking and Caving

I am not a native English speaker, and so I have some difficulties when someone inquires about the way I use a term. I do what everybody does and check Wikipedia first. So that's what I did when someone sent me the following email:

Get your definitions straight. Spelunking is derived from "Speleology". These are the research and study aspects. These are the scientific practices. Caving, is the sport and tourism activities to the underground.

This is the complete email. Seems, saying hello and adding a name is not needed any more in the era of 140 characters attention span. But the point is: the content of the mail is the opposite of what I learned. Actually the terms caving, spelunking, and potholing are synonyms, all three terms lead to the same Wikipedia page. The difference is: spelunking is the American term while potholing is the British term. But then there's more:

Clay Perry, an American caver of the 1940s, wrote about a group of men and boys who explored and studied caves throughout New England. This group referred to themselves as spelunkers, a term derived from the Latin spēlunca ("cave, cavern, den"), itself from the Greek σπῆλυγξ spēlynks ("cave"). This is regarded as the first use of the word in the Americas. Throughout the 1950s, spelunking was the general term used for exploring caves in US English. It was used freely, without any positive or negative connotations, although only rarely outside the US.
In the 1960s, the terms spelunking and spelunker began to be considered déclassé among experienced enthusiasts. In 1985, Steve Knutson – editor of the National Speleological Society (NSS) publication American Caving Accidents – made the following distinction: "…Note that I use the term 'spelunker' to denote someone untrained and unknowledgeable in current exploration techniques, and 'caver' for those who are."
This sentiment is exemplified by bumper stickers and T-shirts displayed by some cavers: "Cavers rescue spelunkers". Nevertheless, outside the caving community, "spelunking" and "spelunkers" predominately remain neutral terms referring to the practice and practitioners, without any respect to skill level.

Wikipedia, retrieved 21-JUN-2020

If you ask people who actually go caving, spelunking is the derogatory term for stupid or unprepared cave trips.
Origin: "spelunk" is the sound a clumsy caver makes when he slips and falls in a cave and lands in water.
If you don't take a helmet, more than one source of light, and a few friends into the cave with you, then you're not caving. You're spelunking., retrieved 21-JUN-2020

spelunking: the activity of climbing into caves under the ground for enjoyment
Macmillan Dictionary

So that's obviously the opposite of what this email guy said. And that's what I learned and used, but I did this after reading an article Jo Schaper wrote 20 years ago on To me it seems like the term spelunking is only used in the US, and it is widely used by show caves, National Parks, caving clubs and others who offer cave visits for fun. And thats how I used the term on But the email I cited was not the only one which sees it the other way round, it becomes more common on blogs, on forums, and in comments. It seems the new generation of spelunkers does the same the guys in the 80s did. Thats the euphemism threadmill at its best.

However, my only intention is to make clear what level a tour has. If I wrote spelunking tour, the meaning was "get dirty under supervision". But if there actually is a shift in how the term is used, I have to adapt. And actually, I do not care about the American term Spelunker, its national and my website is international. So I decided to replace Spelunking by Cave Trekking, except where it is the actual name of the tour.