Monday, January 17, 2011

Welcome back, Uncle Walker*

If you enjoyed "autoist" vs. "motorist" last month, what do you think about "walker"? What's your first reading: something that helps someone walk, or someone who walks?

I grew up in the "Humble: Happy Motoring" days, and to echo a late-breaking "autoist" comment,** I too get a musty midcentury tang from "motorist." It wouldn't occur to me to use "motoring" for "driving," though it looks perfectly unexceptional in "motoring down the field" and the like.*** I wouldn't say "motorist" has gone obsolete on us yet, but it certainly wouldn't be my first choice in this hed. At a guess, the reason for not using "driver" (the term in the lede) is an exaggerated fear of parroting the lede.

"Walker" is harder to figure out. The lede**** has room for things like "man trying to cross Albemarle Road," but the shorthand I'd use for that is "pedestrian." "Walker" is a fine word (the Nine Walkers couldn't be set against the Nine Riders if it wasn't), but not the one I use for "somebody crossing the street."

How did it get there? Who knows? Space doesn't seem like an issue; substitute "driver" for "motorist," lose the "a" and there's plenty of room for "pedestrian." Sometimes newspapers go into spontaneous fits of language reform. (I can remember a ban at the same paper on the phrase "near miss," on grounds that it meant "nearly a miss" and thus really meant "hit.") So one thing that comes to mind is a lone editor railing against the multisyllabic Latinism of "pedestrian" and declaring that "walker" is the lone good and true term.

More likely, it's just someone working in a hurry and forgetting that the nearest exit could be the one in the row behind you. Other thoughts and observations, as always, are welcome.

* Bonus points if you can fill in the required footnote here!
** Couldn't find the n-gram, though; John, could you try a link again?
*** Motorboat Jones (at Gastonia when I saw him) remains one of my favorite baseball names. "Motorboat" seems to have well outlasted "motorcar."
**** The story has been updated, and the version I used is no longer available. You can still get to the hed by searching the site for "motorist."

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Blogger John Cowan said...

Near miss = 'hit'? Are they nuts? A near miss is contrasted with something we have no standard name for: a far miss, a remote miss? A miss by a country mile.

3:37 PM, January 17, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The holidays of my youth are punctuated with long boring drives down Interstate 91 through Massachusetts, where signs considerately announced "MOTORIST AID CALL BOXES NEXT 55 MILES". Not coincidentally this was during NMSL days so it was supposed to take not less than an hour to pass through Massachusetts on I-91. (Of course, at the opposite end of the highway, the signs said "END MOTORIST AID CALL BOXES".)

5:54 PM, January 17, 2011  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"Walker" made me think of someone doing it competitively - or possibly what most of us in the US call a "hiker".

I expect that "motorboat" outlasted "motorcar" because "car" pretty much only means "motorcar" but there are still lots of non-motor-boats, especially at the small size that "motorboat" means (you don't call the QE2 that, do you?).

8:20 PM, January 17, 2011  
Anonymous Picky said...

In the UK the victim would have been a pedestrian. A walker would be someone who walks for recreation, or for the dog's recreation perhaps.

We have "motorist" still very much alive, but in the sense of a general role, not a particular action. It's drivers who have road accidents, motorists who complain that petrol tax is an attack on their rights. (If we had a written constitution, the right to drive free of charge on empty roads would be the first amendment.)

5:47 AM, January 18, 2011  
Anonymous Picky said...

And if you're OK with MOTORIST AID CALL BOXES you should be quite happy reading the heads in a British tabloid.

9:07 AM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

ps - was that title in the Bandar dialect?

9:17 AM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger fev said...

What's that sound of drumming I hear?

10:00 AM, January 18, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always thought a walker was a paid escort...

1:15 PM, January 18, 2011  
Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

I believe Uncle Walker was the Phantom (for the Ghost Who Walks).

4:42 PM, January 18, 2011  
Anonymous raYb said...

There were the Imperial Walkers in Star Wars, the ones the Ewoks helped trip, fall down, go Boom!

2:02 PM, January 20, 2011  

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