Wednesday, September 20, 2006

push-vehicles

An old American friend, Lord Affectation (I've got other less flattering names for him too), has moved to Kent and informed me that "The British call bicycles push irons!" I said, "Your English friends are pushing your leg." Most English people call them bicycles, just like the rest of the English-speaking world. But as the photo (taken near a bike rack on campus) shows, he's partly right. Some people do call them push bikes, including The Gardener (Better Half's Sister's Better Half--BH just called him a young fogey). It's a little old-fashioned, but it succeeds in distinguishing them from motorbikes. AmE sometimes uses pedal bike for this purpose, but bicycle would be more usual. Or just a sign saying No M/C.

The OED has push bicycle and push cycle as well as push bike, which they label as 'informal.' Myself, I've only heard push bike, but push bicycle is around on the web, as well as push tricycle and push unicycle. The OED does not have push iron, but the web holds a small number of examples, some of them in lists of Wigan dialect words. Wigan, it should be noted, is nowhere near Kent.

Of course, BrE has another push-vehicle, the push-chair, known in AmE as a stroller. Related is the pram, short for perambulator, known in AmE as a baby carriage.

28 comments:

barnoid said...

Another strange term I've noticed used mainly by rail companies is "cycles". As in "Cycles are not allowed on this or any other train". I don't know why they don't just say bicycles, unless they are trying to include tricycles and unicycles (quadcycles? quincycles??) as well.

lynneguist said...

Well, I suppose they do want to include unicycles and tricycles too, although it's much less likely that commuters would bring them on the train.

Both bike and cycle are well-known and -used clippings of bicycle in AmE, and I remember when I was a child wondering why we had the both of them. Bike can be used to mean bicycle or motorbike, but to me, cycle isn't a clipping of motorcycle, just bicycle, though I note that cycletrader.com exists for the sale of motorcycles and related motori{s/z}ed transport, not bicycles.

Simon said...

Surely nobody has prams or push-chairs any more? Any self-respecting mother has a baby buggy, which to my untrained eye looks like simply a push-chair with bigger wheels (and, sometimes, one fewer of them) and the inability to fold it up when you get on the bus.

strawman said...

I don't think they do want to include unicycles and tricycles too, it sounds like they want to exclude them. (Sorry, couldn't resist it.)

Presumably, it is not UK rail companies who say "Cycles are not allowed...etc", as I think they have always made a virtue of the fact that cycles are allowed, free of charge: see, for example, GNER's advice on cycles.

strawman said...

I agree that bike can mean bicycle or motorbike, but a cycle is just a bicycle.

However, if the bike is ridden by a biker it is a motorbike; if the same person also rides a non-motori{s/z}ed bike, s/he is then a cyclist.

lynneguist said...

It is UK rail (AmE: railway) companies that say cycles are not allowed. For instance, Southern trains allow only folding cycles at peak times. And yes, they say cycles. This followed the replacement of the old trains with the swish new ones--the old ones had a carriage (AmE: car) for cycles, etc. and the new ones have space for about two bicycles next to the disabled toilet (AmE: restroom).

Of course, I meant that the rail(way) companies include unicycles and tricycles in the meaning of cycle, rather than including them on their trains, but you knew that Strawman...

lynneguist said...

Back to Simon's comments. I've noticed that the Swedes (perhaps other continentals too?) are really into prams--they have really nice ones where the top comes off to be a travel cot (AmE: crib). Not so in the UK, indeed.

Baby buggy has come in for things like the Bugaboo, but even those who sell them still call them pushchairs.

Anonymous said...

I have to point out that Europeans have Railways, but Americans have Railroads. All in the spirit of things, you understand!

lynneguist said...

I am losing it...(my American intuition, that is).

I knew rail company sounded off, so was looking for what it should be. I think my block is related to the fact that in the US there's a state monopoly on passenger rail (at least so far as those of us from non-commuter train areas are concerned) and so one would just say Amtrak. Railroad company doesn't sound right at all. Perhaps I should just stick with train.

I always suspect that when someone logs on as 'anonymous' to correct me, it must be someone I know. A colleague? I'm tempted to disallow anonymous comments--would that make me right more often? :)

ally said...

'Buggy' isn't a new word, it was there way before those massive three-wheeler things; it's been around at least since I was pushed around in one in the early 80s (and probably some way before, I imagine).

lynneguist said...

The OED has baby buggy as American, but their examples are pretty old (1890-1934).

Karen said...

Ahem, that collapsible 4 wheeled vehicle one pushes ones' child around in is known as a "stroller" in AmE.

In my grandmother's day it was a large wobbly contraption that was called a "baby carriage".

Sorry but I've never heard a human refer to a bicycle as a cycle.

I have never heard an American refer to a motorcycle as a motorbike. On the other hand, biker only refers to riders of motorcycles and only those who ride bicycles are referred to as cyclists. That's clear, right?

lynneguist said...

Karen, you seem to be agreeing with me--so I'm not sure about the 'ahem'. (or were you disagreeing with the OED? They have proof!)Stroller=push-chair and pram=baby carriage. And no, people don't use them much anymore in the US/UK, as Simon and I discuss above. Some people do use pram more generally to include push-chairs. I was certainly pushed around in a baby carriage in the 1960s, but there are other terms, like buggy that may have been more common in other parts of the country.

Motorbike is in the AHD as referring to any light motorcycle, and that's how I've heard it used in the US, and used it myself. Better Half claims that it's used more generally in the UK, but I'm not sure I'd trust him on that (since he's not too interested in motori{s/z}ed vehicles of any sort). But I put it in bold in the entry even though it's not technically a dialectal word because I do think you hear it more here than in the US.

I think biker can sometimes refer to bicyclists, though it usually refers to motorcyclists (in leather!). For instance, there are lots of instances on the web of mountain biker.

lynneguist said...

...but then again there are reasons to feel that mountain biker does not contain biker. I.e. it contains mountain bike plus -er, rather than mountain + bike-r.

KathyF said...

I think a lot of motorcycles are referred to as "Harleys".

Hoss said...

Ms. Guist, great blog.

Out West (US), motorbike would be heard occasionally associated with off-road riding and even less commonly with street riding. In regards to off-road riding, dirt bike would be a better choice.

As far as strollers/buggies, it always kills me when my Mississippian wife calls the shopping/grocery cart at the store a 'buggy.'

lynneguist said...

While/Whilst in the UK it would be a shopping trolley.

Welcome to the conversation, Hoss.

KathyF said...

On the day I saw this I had my first ever sighting of the word pushbike, on the very last page of "Attention All Shipping, A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast" which you really must read.

dearieme said...

"pushbike" seems to me to belong to my father's generation. Dad was born in 1910.

Aidhoss (A different kind of Hoss) said...

Now for the somewhat peripheral Australian perspective. A 'bike' is anything with 2 wheels, motorised or not. A 'cycle' I have never heard in reference to a vehicle, but certainly 'to cycle' is to operate specifically a bicycle. A 'motorbike' is (legally) any motorised 2-wheeler (a crash taught me this), but folk classification sees it as any two-wheeled motorised vehicle in which some part of the motorbike separates the legs. If no such separation occurs, you have a 'motor-scooter'. A 'Harley' is only ever a Harley, to suggest otherwise is akin to blasphemy. A 'low-rider', or sometimes 'cruiser' is a class of motorbike of which a Harley is a member. A 'Chopper' may be any low-rider that has been customised (raised handlebars, etc.).

murray said...

I recall the term "pedal cycle" from some Australian licensing authority - local police? - that referred only to "treadlies" 8-)

murray said...

By the way, I'm here via Lanuage Hat who mentioned you the other day. I have spent the last several hours in your archives voraciously devouring the linguistic repartee. You are now on my daily 'check list' with LH, Frizzylogic and Wikipedia. Thank you.

For those interested entho[logic][graphic]ly; born Scotland (Dundee, or nearby) 1947, arrived Aust. 1952. Dialect? Aust. I guess, but I lengthen my 'a' just for effect 8-)

lynneguist said...

Welcome, Murray! Thanks for the kind words...

Doug Sundseth said...

"The OED has baby buggy as American, but their examples are pretty old (1890-1934)."

I've certainly heard them called that in the US, though not so much recently. I'll note that "rubber baby-buggy bumpers" has about 23.7 kGhits (quoted search), so it's not completely deprecated.

Electric Dragon said...

Is it just me or does "Push Bikes Only" invite the response "what's wrong with riding them?"

Canadian said...

That's exactly what I thought, electric dragon. I would have thought that meant you should not be riding your bike, you should get off it and walk alongside it. As in a pedestrian area, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

When I saw a posting from an American on an Internet mailing list, referring to an exhibition at which "strollers were not permitted", my first thought was that visitors were obliged to walk through it quickly!

Kate (UK)

Albert Herring said...

A few years late here, but as you've just linked back to it: from a UK club cyclist born and bred's perspective, "pushbike" was always taken as pejorative. I've never heard or seen "pushiron", but "iron" to refer to a bike was fairly common in the 60s and 70s (as far back as I go) but less so now: "I rode the club 10 [-mile time trial] on my track iron this week".

A related American/British distinction is that traditionally "road bike" in the UK specifically meant a fully fledged road racing machine, by contrast with a track bike (proto-fixie) or tourer, while in the USA it seems mainly to be contrastive with mountain bike, and thus includes tourers and anything with narrow|skinny ty|ires.

British and American cycling jargon developed very separately until the last 30 years, with many differences in names of parts and so on; much of this has been eroded since, in particular, the introduction of mountain bikes and the dominance of Japanese manufacturers who supply parts with American English documentation. Usages like "seatpost", "cleats", "clinchers" are all still a bit alien to me (but have steadily replaced seat pins/pillars, shoeplates and HPs/high pressures, despite my misgivings).

The UK traffic laws (and other regulations) refer to "pedal cycles" passim, specifically not bicycles mainly because there is a small but dedicated tradition of trike riders hereabouts. Unicycles don't really count, though, and the continental four-wheel multi-rider seaside pedal car that I know as "a cuistax" (which is probably a Belgicism in French) aren't often seen here either.

One other American (pretty obsolete, I assume) usage that comes across as odd is the use of "cyclist" to mean "motorcyclist" - the working title for The Wild One was "The Cyclists' Raid".