12 Regional Idioms for ‘Highway Median Strip’

iStock // Lucy Quintanilla
iStock // Lucy Quintanilla

Chances are you call that divider separating opposing lanes of traffic a median or median strip—unless, that is, you live in Louisiana, Mississippi, or the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states. So what would those residents and others call it instead? We worked with the editors at the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) to find out.

1. NEUTRAL GROUND

In Louisiana and southern Mississippi, a highway median strip is like Switzerland: neutral ground. In parade-loving New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, according to DARE, the neutral ground is actually wider than a traditional median strip, providing “a good wide place free from traffic for people—sort of like mini parks.” Neutral ground also refers to a tree lawn, that grassy area between the sidewalk and road.

2. NEUTRAL STRIP

Mosey on over to Tennessee and neutral ground becomes neutral strip. Again, this term could also refer to a tree lawn.

3. CAUTION STRIP

Not to be confused with caution tape, caution strip is used in some parts of Mississippi.

4. DIVIDANCE

You won't find this North Carolina term in many traditional dictionaries. We're guessing dividance might either be a blend of divide and avoidance, or simply divide with the -ance suffix tacked on.

5. ESPLANADE

While the traditional definition of esplanade is a walkable promenade along a shoreline, in Texas it’s that divider between opposite flows of traffic. The word is originally French, but in Texas, it's probably influenced by the Spanish explanada, “lawn.”

6. BOULEVARD

In the western Great Lakes region and Gulf States, a median strip is called a boulevard. The word boulevard comes from the Old French bollevart, “rampart converted to a promenade,” which comes from the Middle Dutch bolwerc, “bulwark.”

7. MALL

Go to upstate New York and you’ll find out a mall isn't just about shopping. It’s that separating area in the middle of a multilane road. The word mall originated in 1727 to mean a shaded promenade. It came from The Mall, a specific promenade in London so called because it was once an open alley where the croquet-like game, pall-mall, was played. Pall-mall is an alteration of the Italian pallamaglio, “ball mallet.”

8. MIDWAY

In Connecticut, the median of a highway would be the midway.

9. AND 10. PARK AND PARKWAY

Park or center park might be used in Georgia and New York, while parkway has scattered usage, including parts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. “Don’t Drive on Parkway,” one road sign in south Florida warns, despite that old chestnut about driving on the parkway and parking on the driveway.

11. GREEN

In New York, a median strip might be a mall, park, center park or a green or green strip. The name was also found in Maryland, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Ohio, and California.

12. BERM

In addition to highway median in California and Indiana, the word berm has multiple meanings. According to DARE, it could refer to the bank of a canal opposite the towpath; a long mound or bank; a bank of snow or dirt, usually at a roadside; a bank of debris; the shoulder of the road in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia; or a tree lawn in the Great Lakes region. The word is French in origin, says the Oxford English Dictionary, and in modern Dutch refers to a space or ledge.

13 Words That Changed From Negative to Positive Meanings (or Vice Versa)

grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

One of the main reasons for the existence of slang is to keep the outsiders from understanding the insiders. Making up new words is one way to achieve this, but it’s not the only one. A favorite trick for the young to play on the old is to take an established word and completely change its connotations from bad to good. In recent decades we’ve seen sick, wicked, ill, and bad recruited to the “hearty positive endorsement” side. While some would lament the decline of language suggested by such wanton disregard for word meaning, this kind of meaning switch is nothing new. Here are 13 fine, upstanding words that long ago switched from negative to positive (or vice versa).

1. Fun

Fun was first a verb meaning "to cheat or hoax." It came from fon, an old word for "fool." It still retains some of that sense in “make fun of,” but now also means "a merry good time."

2. Fond

Fond also goes back to fon, and it once meant "foolish and weak-minded." It came to then mean over-affectionate in a negative, cloying way. Now it’s positive, but at root, being fond of something is basically being a fool for it.

3. Terrific

The root of terrific is terror, and it first meant terror-inducing. It then became an exaggerated intensifier (“terrifically good!” = so good it’s terrifying) and then a positive term all on its own.

4. Tremendous

Like terrific, tremendous has its roots in fear. Something tremendous was so terrible it caused trembling or shaking. It also became an intensifier (“tremendously good!”) before it went all the way positive.

5. Awe

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, awe originally referred to “immediate and active fear.” It then became associated with religious, reverential fear, and then to a feeling of being humbled at the sublime. While awful retains the negative sense, awesome took on the positive one.

6. Grin

To grin was to bare the teeth in a threatening display of anger or pain. It then became the term for a forced, fake smile, before settling into an expression of happiness.

7. Smart

Smart was first used in Old English to describe things that cause pain. Weapons, nails, and darts were smart. Shakespeare’s Henry VI has the phrase “as smart as lizards’ stings.” It took on connotations of sharpness, quickness, intensity, and, through smart, pain-causing words or wit came to stand for quick intelligence and fashionableness.

8. Egregious

Egregious was a positive word that turned negative. It used to mean "eminent and distinguished," but because people started using it sarcastically, it came to mean "bad and offensive."

9. Sad

Sad started with the meaning of "satisfied or sated," also sometimes "steadfast" or "firm." It then went from meaning "serious," to "grave," to "sorrowful."

10. Smug

Smug first meant "crisp, tidy, and presentable." A well-dressed person was smug in this way, and it later came to mean "self-satisfied and conceited."

11. Devious

Devious comes from de via, "off the way." It once meant "distant" or "off the road." It took on the meaning of wandering—there were devious comets, devious minnows—and, because to do wrong was to stray from the right path, it eventually came to mean "scheming and deceitful."

12. Facetious

To be facetious was once to have elegant, gracious, high style, and to be jokey and witty. It came from a Latin term for playful humorousness. It is still connected with a type of humor, but with an unproductive or annoying connotation.

13. Bully

Bully used to be a term of endearment for men or women. A bully could be a good friend or a sweetheart. It then came to stand for a swaggering braggart and than a coward who picks on others.

This list was first published in 2015 and republished in 2019.

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER