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How a Driveway Became a Parkway

Rob Kyff on

Q: Why do cars drive on a parkway and park on a driveway? -- Johanna Van Valkenburgh, West Granby, Connecticut

A: This verbal enigma is a staple of that chain-letter email "Why English Is Difficult" that has been recycling on the internet for decades.

In fact, "parkway" and "driveway," though often cited as "oxymorons" and examples of "crazy English," have etymologies that are quite logical. Both appeared in English during the late 1800s.

A parkway is a thoroughfare that has been designed and landscaped to resemble a park. Hence, the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut boasts trees, grassy medians, scenic views and, as I'm reminded all too often, very short acceleration lanes. Believe it or not, during the 1930s and 1940s families actually treated this highway as a park and often stopped to picnic along the road.

A "driveway" provides "a way to drive" from a public road to a private house or business. And, yes, we park our cars in the driveway, especially when our garage is so full of bicycles, toys and garbage cans that there's no room left for the car.

It's more interesting, perhaps, to examine the reason we "park" a car. The original meaning of "park" was a designated area of land stocked with game, and soon "park" came to refer to any area where something was stored.

So, when wagons and later cars came along, we "parked them," that is, stored them in a certain place temporarily, though sometimes not so temporarily as in the case of the broken-down 1976 BMW that was "parked" in a former neighbor's driveway for several years.

 

Q: My book group's selection this month is Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which I am much enjoying. But I write today about her description of a cooking kettle, "from whence steam forth indubitable intimations of 'something good.'" "From whence?" Redundant? -- Dexter Senft, Saratoga Springs, New York

A: As usage expert Bryan Garner notes, "from whence" is technically redundant because "whence" means "from which" or "from where." But "from whence" has a very respectable pedigree, appearing in writing by Shakespeare, Dryden and Dickens.

In fact, "from whence" is often clearer than "whence" alone. Without "from," for instance, Stowe's passage is incomprehensible: "a kettle, whence steam forth indubitable intimations..." Huh?

Stowe could have used "from which," but the hissing sound of "whence" better conveys the inviting aroma emerging from the kettle. In this case, "from whence," like, the food being cooked, is "something good."

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Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His new book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Amazon.com. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to WordGuy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

 

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