In my latest column for The Boston Globe, I observed that Beantown has more than its fair share of local terms for sketchy traffic maneuvers: the Boston left, the Boston bump, the Boston block, and so forth. But these regional labels can be found all over the country, and new ones keep cropping up.
One thing I discovered while researching the column is that everyone seems to think that their particular region has a monopoly on questionable driving tactics: thus, the Boston left (turning left as soon as a light turns green before oncoming traffic gets in the way) is known elsewhere as the Pittsburgh left, the Jersey left, the Rhode Island left, the New York left, and so forth. And the rolling stop that is most often called the California stop or California roll is also called the Hollywood stop, the Michigan stop, the New York stop, the Philly stop, the St. Louis stop, or simply the American stop.
While there does seem to be a tendency for different regions to make claims on the same maneuver, often these regional terms are used to make more fine-grained distinctions or to name more outrageous moves. Here's a sampling of some of the more peculiar examples I've come across:
Jersey dive: This is the name for "dashing across multiple lanes of traffic at the last minute to get to an offramp," according to a Jalopnik commenter. Folks on Twitter also dubbed this the Jersey slide or the Puerto Rican slide.
Kentucky right turn: In a 1986 "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine, one of William Safire's correspondents defined this as ''the maneuver performed when a driver, about to turn right, first swings to the left.'' I have also seen this called the farmer turn.
Minnesota flying wedge: On Twitter, Christian Frederickson said this was the local term for "2+ cars driving abreast on the highway."
Florida creep: In 1995, a reader of Bob Levey's Washington Post column reported this term for "stopping at a red light some distance behind the next car, then inching forward."
Chicago dodge: The same reader said this meant "signaling a turn in one direction and turning in the other."
Virginia end run: Again from Levey's reader: "Car A passes Car B, which is passed in turn by Car C. Simultaneously. On a two-lane road."
- West Virginia split pass: In a followup column, another of Levey's readers described this bizarre maneuver, which one-ups the Virginia end run: "Car B is passing Car A on a two-lane road. Just as Car B is alongside Car A, Car C approaches from the opposite direction. Car B veers to the left shoulder and continues to accelerate. Car C goes between oncoming Cars A and B. Then Car B pulls ahead of Car A," and everyone somehow lives happily ever after.
If this split pass is actually something that happens on the roads of West Virginia, then I think we have a winner for the most insane traffic designation. If you have any other colorful driving terms in your neck of the woods, let us know in the comments below!
Ben Zimmer is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society.Click here to read other articles by Ben Zimmer
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