pavement, sidewalk, and the stuff thereof

I'm essentially an idealistic and optimistic person, if one can judge by thoughts that go through my head like "Sure, I can work on the blog tonight and still meet all my other deadlines." But I have a very healthy morbid streak (as the hypochondriac child of a funeral home should have), as evidenced by the following train of thought, which stopped at several stations in my head this afternoon while I was pushing Grover in her (BrE) pushchair/(AmE) stroller across the (BrE) car park/(AmE) parking lot at the (AmE) train station/(BrE) railway station:
"Oh look, that car is (AmE) backing up (= BrE-preferred reversing).
"Maybe I ought to get on the (BrE) pavement. That way, if they hit me, it'll be the driver's fault and I'll have a moral victory.
"Hm, if you said to an American 'the pedestrian was on the pavement when she was killed', they'd probably think it was the pedestrian's fault.
"That'll disappoint my parents when the police come to tell them about my tragic demise. (Of course, Grover, being on wheels, will be pushed to safety. )"
Now, one point of interest (at least to me) is the fact that I seem to be thinking in a mix of dialects. That's probably not as clear in reality as it is when I type out the thought process. When I saw the car's movement, I probably thought "!!!" rather than "Oh look, that car is backing up." But the word pavement definitely made it through my head, since otherwise the subsequent thoughts wouldn't have come hot on its asphalt heels. But that's not the reason I've stopped to blog about it.

People frequently note that AmE sidewalk = BrE pavement, but it's rarer to see the AmE use of pavement explained in those ubiquitous lists of simple AmE/BrE lexical differences. In BrE, if you're on the pavement, then you're not on the road, but for Americans, this can be confusing because the road is paved, and therefore pavement. The OED gives the following:
2. a. The paved or metalled part of a road or other public thoroughfare; the roadway. Now chiefly N. Amer. and Engin.
The main sense in N. America.
But the more common sense in BrE is:
b. A paved footpath alongside a street, road, etc., usually slightly raised above the level of the road surface. See also foot-pavement n.
I've seen one person on the web claiming that we use pavement in this way in the US--i.e. to distinguish the pedestrian path from the road. That's not my experience at all--so it may be that that it's regional--the writer doesn't indicate where she's from.

Incidentally, sidewalk (originally side walk or side-walk) is one of those things that was originally British English, but which faltered here while gaining favo(u)r in America. So, next time you see/hear a British person showing distaste for the word, you can ask them to thank their ancestors for it. Let's start with these charming folk:
Sir David Attenborough would never say 'sidewalk', he speaks English (properly). [poster PEB at the ITV football (=AmE soccer) forum]

i find myself using more and more American English, in an effort for smoother understanding, as i come into contact with so few Brits here. i say ’apartment’ and ’soccer’ and ’line’ instead of ’queue’ - which is all pretty bad - i commit to never say ’sidewalk’, though - and hope that if i ever did, even in jest, anyone who thought of themselves as a friend would have the common decency to punch me in the face. square in the face. repeatedly. [a gareth egg's myspace page; I don't consider him a friend, but I would consider punching him square in the face. Maybe not repeatedly, as that would ruin my pacifist cred.]

But all that wasn't the reason I've stopped to blog about my morbid thought train either. No, the reason I'm blogging about it is that I have a modicum of guilt about the fact that I've used so few of the good ideas sent to me by readers these days, and thinking of pavement made me think of an e-mail sent to me by my emeritus colleague Max (since he uses his own name when he comments here, I won't do my usual pseudonymi{s/z}ing). He's just read Jane Smiley's Ten days in the hills (which I won't be reading because I've given her two chances and she's driven me [BrE] mad/[AmE] crazy each time), and he sent me a list of Americanisms that were new to him. Among them was
He went down the front steps and walked toward the aviary across Mike's pavers, set in an elaborate pattern of interlocking arches.
which, as he correctly worked out, is equivalent to BrE paving stones, though I had to look it up to know that, as it's not a word I'd ever use. In fact, it's not in many has to go to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction for it, so it might just be trade jargon. That's not the only place in Smiley's novel where Max found a term that I had to go to a specialist glossary for (true-divided-light windows, anyone?), which gives a little hint as to why I find her writing too gristly to chew.

Of course, these days, paving is done with just about anything that can be used to harden an area of ground. Where I grew up, we called the black stuff that's used on roads tar or blacktop (one could also, more dialect-neutrally, call it asphalt) but in BrE, it is more likely to be called tarmacadam--a word I'd never heard in America--or its abbreviation tarmac. In AmE, tarmac
(originally Tarmac, a trade name) is reserved for the surfaces that (AmE) airplanes/(BrE) aeroplanes drive on at airports--as in "I once had to sit on the tarmac for five hours at JFK." (Not that my bottom came into contact with the tarmac, but that my bottom made contact with a plane that made unmoving contact with the tarmac.) In the OED definition above, we see metalled (AmE would prefer metaled), which refers to road metal, a term that I've never come across before, but refers to "broken stone used in making roads", as is found in these tarmacky, asphalty things. If you'd like to know the technical differences between tarmac and asphalt, I recommend that you look them up because although I've just read all about it, I just can't build up the enthusiasm to tell you about it.

I can't leave this subject without mentioning crazy-paving, which I have only heard in BrE contexts--the first of which (in my American circumstance) was in Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' song Rattlesnakes:
her heart, heart's like crazy paving
upside down and back to front
she says ooh, it's so hard to love
when love was your great disappointment*
Getting to hear that live was the first and only reason we've had to find someone to (orig. AmE) babysit in the evening so far. Did not disappoint--in fact, Mr Cole appointed very well. But getting back to language and away from the little (orig. AmE) crushes of mine that Better Half bears so well, crazy paving is the use of paving stones in a 'crazed' non-pattern. Although, as far as I know, the term crazy paving is mostly used in the UK, it is based (according to the OED) on the originally AmE collocation crazy quilt, for a patchwork quilt with irregularly shaped/placed patches.

* These are the published lyrics, but I've always heard this as 'love was sure a great disappointment'. Click on the link above to watch the video and tell me I'm not wrong!


  1. The only place I know the word "Pavers" from is This Old House. So, yes, jargon.

    "I'm on the pavement, thinkin' 'bout the government."
    -B. Dylan.

  2. When I first found out that pavement was BrE for sidewalk, I remember wondering whether British indie-rock fans in the '90s thought that the American band Pavement's name meant "sidewalk," and if so whether that colo(u)red their view of the band (or at least its name) differently. Probably not; it's a pretty nonsensical name either way...

  3. For added weirdness, Pavement has apparently been called "the most British American rock band", according to this interview with Stephen Malkmus.

    So far, so on-topic. Hurrah!

  4. So, what is crazy paving called in the US, or do you just not have the thing?

  5. I've never to my knowledge heard it talked about in the US, so either it's not as popular, or we don't feel the need to discuss it as much!

    Does anyone have a better answer?

  6. When I read your description of "crazy paving", it didn't sound familiar, and I thought it must not be a popular design here in the States; but then I did a google image search, and what I found was immediately familiar.

    It would seem that what the Brits refer to by the pattern used, we Yanks name according to the material used: I would call it "flagstone".

  7. Here in Australia, the black road material is generally known as bitumen. I believe most Aussies would understand tar or tarmac, but would probably not be familiar with tarmacadam or blacktop.

  8. Flagstone can be quite uniformly laid: it need not be crazy. If the crazy paving is made of unworked stone, though, I'd call it fieldstone.

    Pacific Bedrock, a Chinese company, has a glossary that says the American English term is simply "randomly set paving".

    (Far be it from me to contradict the OED, but I had always understood that people were crazy because they were cracked, like the paving.

  9. I've heard pavers used in the UK, but I can't remember who by or what part of the country (sorry).

  10. I know them as paviours, brick setts. Paving stones are much bigger and flatter.
    See a UK supplier.

    But now I type, I'm not sure how well known setts are. Think large ,6", cubes in Yorkshire streets. I was told streets had setts rather than tarmac so that the pack horses could get a grip on the slopes.

  11. All I know is that I cut my finger in the kitchen at work and was bleeding and had grabbed a bit of paper towel and was keeping it under pressure and ran and asked my colleague for a plaster. I was mortified. I needed a bandaid! I was bleeding! Where did the word plaster come from!

  12. I'd call it asphalt or blacktop - but when I moved to Eastern PA (Bucks County) I learned a new word - macadam, which is obviously a shortening of tarmacadam.

  13. Syd, "macadam" isn't necessarily a shortening of "tarmacadam", since there were macadamized roads long before the invention of tarmacadam. The Scotsman John McAdam invented the process of building roads using three layers of graded stones, with each layer rolled to cause the stones to bind together. Tar-bonding of the stones, to prevent the raising of dust clouds by fast moving motor vehicles, was a later invention.

  14. Steph, the word "plaster" comes from the earlier use of the word to denote a piece of muslin spread (plastered) with a soothing or healing salve and placed on a wound. It is, via Latin, from Greek (in which emplastron was the salve itself, related to the words "plasma" and "plastic" which share the idea of moulding), and seems to be the common term in north European languages, cf. Pflaster (German), pleister (Dutch), plåster (Swedish). The term "sticking plaster", to give it its full name in BrE, was thus just that: a self-adhesive wound dressing. To British ears it seems a little odd that Americans always seem to refer to just one brand of sticking plaster (are there no other makes?). Another oddity is that while anglophone Canadians say "bandaid" (so I am told), les Québecois frequently ask for "un plaster"!

  15. As an American, I'd describe "pavers" as being no more than a few inches on each side, designed to form some sort of regular geometric pattern, usually concrete or terra cotta, rather than natural stone. "Brick" would be an acceptable and easily-understood substitute.

    Google searches seem to suggest that companies use the word "paver" for some of the larger ones, about a foot/30 cm on each side, but my word of choice would probably be "block" or "stone" or even "tile."

  16. I'm originally from northern New Jersey. I was unfamiliar with the term tarmacadam before reading this post, but I do know macadam as a synonym for what I would usually call tar or asphalt. It sounds like something my grandmother would say, and she was from Reading, Pennsylvania in Berks County, not too far from Bucks County, where Syd learned the term.

    As to paver, in addition to the generic "paving stone" meaning, there's a more specific meaning of a type of brick, with dimensions in a two to one ratio, so that they fit together tightly when used to pave a walkway or patio, and can be used to make interesting patterns. Bricks that are used to build walls have some other ratio which doesn't lend itself to use in that way.

  17. A question for you guys:

    Australians usually say "footpath" instead of sidewalk/pavement; I have been told that this sense of "footpath" is a British archaism/regionalism. (I'm American.) Is there anybody out there in the British Isles who still uses "footpath" to mean a sidewalk/pavement?

  18. In these parts, a footpath is one that goes into/through a wooded area or field (etc.), and isn't used much for pavements/sidewalks in a town that were deliberately put there to be pedestrian zones.

  19. My definition of "crazy paving" would be that it was made from broken paving stones(frequently available free from your local council), not just irregular stones, and thus named not as the OED would have it, after crazy quilting but from the older meaning of "crazy", damaged, full of cracks.

    A footpath, btw, is not exlusively rural and can be urban: it would be a path through a built-up area that did not run alongside a road. Footpath would also be used for the raised area for pedestrians running alongside a rural road.

  20. In BrE a footpath needn't be rural, or lead out from an urban area towards the woods and fields; it can equally well be a paved/tarmacked walkway in town, but the essential difference between it and a pavement is that a pavement necessarily runs beside a road. Many housing estates with cul-de-sacs for motor vehicles have footpaths cutting through between houses from one road to another to facilitate journeys on foot; others have layouts where the house fronts cannot be directly accessed by road -- instead, a footpath passes their front doors. One of these footpaths leads past my own front door; it's not a "pavement" because there is no road alongside it (beyond it is a low wall separating off a parking area) -- but, on leaving my house, whether I turn left or right along this footpath I arrive within 40 metres at a pavement (no wider, and with the same surface, but so called because it runs beside a road).

  21. The BrE understanding of "footpath" outlined above made me query my AmE instincts on what I would call such a path that diverged from the side of a road, and I think that if it was still of the familiar poured-concrete design, it would be stil be a sidewalk, especially in an urban area. (I'm thinking particularly of college campuses in the Southwestern US, which tend to be swaths of concrete interrupted by buildings and the occasional decorative lawn, where I would use the word "sidewalk" to differentiate concrete from grass, gravel, or asphalt as walking surfaces.)

    Might this perhaps point to a further distinction between BrE and AmE usage? The AmE "sidewalk" (at least in my understanding) doesn't need to be to the side of anything in particular, though it sounds as if the BrE "pavement" does. What are others' instincts on this?

  22. as an architect raised & educated in the US, but now working in london, there are many many many new terms of AmE/BrE jargon that I've had to adjust myself to (sidewalk / paving) being just one of those things.

    I spent my first month working here correcting what I thought were typos, most noticably curb/kerb and sill/cill.

    Apparently Brits use curb as a verb (as in to curb your dog) and 'kerb' to be the edging piece of concrete at a level change (between the pavement/sidewalk and the bitumen/asphalt).

    I'm still not sure how cill/sill
    happened, but basically everytime I mention it to a British person, they look at me and say, 'Well it's not the Kenter of a Kircle is it?'

  23. Another architect chiming in...
    "Paver" is actually used (at least when I am drawings plans) to identify the blocks creating the path no matter what they are made of. I often will call for "Brick Pavers" or "Concrete Pavers" when specifying them on a drawing.

    Although, in my conversational usage, when I talk about something using pavers, it indicates a sporadic, use of stone. Something with one stone every foot or so, with plenty of grass or sand or whatever surrounding it. Or if it is a continuous path, it is not very wide. Once it gets wider I would just call it a brick walkway, or what have you.

    For example, if giving directions to someoen through a garden, I would say, "Follow the brick pavers off to the right." but if it was wider, it would be follow the walkway.

    Of course that could just be me.

  24. In addition to "macadam", "black top", and "asphalt", I've heard "tarvey" for that sort of pavement. ( 8-) AmE "pavement".) I've only heard it used by my grandmother, who is from NW Minnesota and is now 95, so it might be obsolete, regional, or both.

  25. How about the pronunciation of "asphalt"? It always looks to me as if it should be "ass-fault" but I mostly seem to hear people saying "ash-fault". Is this a mispronunciation, is it really the standard pronunciation, or is there a dialectal difference?

  26. I believe the pavement/sidewalk is officially known as the "footway" in the UK. I wouldn't expect to hear anyone use that term except in a legal or technical context.

    "Footpath" is used in law relating to public footpaths, which definitely excludes footways.

    (The pavement is part of the highway, and it is illegal to cycle or drive on it; while you do not have a right to cycle or drive on a footpath it isn't illegal as such: the landowner can do so legally and anyone else is merely trespassing, a civil offence)

  27. terry--since crazy quilts are made from little leftover, irregular scraps of material, I think the association to both 'crazed' and 'crazy quilts' could be made. Which is to say, 'crazy quilt' could also come from the 'broken' meaning.

    kevin--your explanation of 'footpath' is really helpful, and rings true for me--e.g. there's a shortcut between my mother-in-law's house and her local station, which is marked 'public footpath'.

    jonathan-I don't trust my own intuitions on 'sidewalk' anymore, so you'll have to wait for someone else to respond!

  28. Over here in Australia where we call one pavement "footpath" and the other pavement "tarmac/bitument/assphalt" (or just "the road"), I've always thought a paved road would be one made of bricks or cobblestones or something. It was quite a surprise the first time I heard a sealed road described as paved.

    Although I don't use it and rarely hear it, I understand "pavement" in its British sense.

    As for the other terms in your post:

    AusE pusher (vs BrE pushchair/AmE stroller)
    AusE carpark (vs AmE parking lot)
    AusE train station (vs BrE railway station)
    AusE reversing (vs AmE backing up)
    AusE soccer ("football" refers to the dominant code in your area, so soccer in England, rugby league in northern-eastern Australia, Australian football in the rest of Australia, gridiron in America etc.)
    One is driven mad, but once you're there, you're normally crazy because "mad" is ambiguous.

  29. Oh incidentally Lynneguist, I can never see the "word verification" picture when I'm at home, meaning I can only post here when I'm at work. Now, this might be part of some plot to take over the world by ruining the Australian economy, but if it's not, have you got any idea why?

  30. I grew up in Indiana where many of our neighbors had these yard (AmE) surfaces made from found (or "found") materials that looked very much like UK crazy paving. The only term I ever heard for this was "redneck deck", usually used proudly by individuals who considered themselves to be rednecks.

    Now I live in a north London home which has true "crazy paving" in both front and back gardens (BrE). This paving was installed exceptionally well (embedded in at least 6" of concrete and nicely level) which means we have decided to live with it rather than try and reveal any of the dirt below. So our "garden" is more like a parking space even though it is not possible to park there.

  31. Here in New Zealand, a 'metaled road' is one that isn't paved, i.e. a (AmE)'gravel road'. Is that the usage in the UK? The original post was a bit ambiguous.

    As a former US College/University student, I concur that 'sidewalk' is an unremarkable AmE way to refer to paved pathways between buildings. The simple 'Path' is also used.

    'Walkway' and 'pathway' are also common, but they're a bit more formal and would tend to show up in written communications from the university to the students (e.g. stay on the pathways instead of tearing up the lawns, don't chalk slogans all over the walkway outside the dining hall, etc.)

    Incidentally, what do brits call 'sidewalk chalk'? or is drawing on the pavement in front of ones' house not something british children do?

  32. Over here, Kiwianna, I think drawing on the pavement is called "drawing on the pavement."

  33. Chiming in from L.A., where the word "pavers" is commonly used to indicate any sort of stones or tiles used to pave a yard. My backyard (garden to you Brits) is completely covered in square, terra cotta tiles, which everyone involved in my home purchase transaction (realtors, handymen, inspectors, etc.) referred to as pavers or tile pavers. But pavement definitely means the street here.

  34. There is a delighful regional word from Sussex that refers to an urban footpath (usually running between the back gardens/yards of houses, and that is "twitten". I would have said the nearest AmE translation would be "alley" - only you can sometimes drive along an alley, but you can't drive along a twitten.

  35. @Cameron.
    Kiwianna's post sounds to me as if she's referring to the chalk itself rather than the act of writing on the pavement. But 'sidewalk chalk' suggests that in NZ there must be some special sort of chalk made for the purpose. Can this be so?

    (Pete Moor)
    (Whichever works) (It seems to work better if you don't do a preview)

  36. @the_sybil.
    I was trying to think of a word for the passageways that exist between most back gardens (AmE backyards) in the UK, but apparently seldom in the US. Twitten is perfect.
    Here in Florida we do not have the walls and fences of the UK in frontyards. Thus neighbors can, in a pinch, park on each others' driveways or swards, depending on who's having the party. But it's our backyards which are firmly chainlinked one against t'other, with no twitten in between.
    So, how did the twitten become the standard architecture in the UK?
    Could it have something to do with the legal definition of "Public Footpath"?

    (Gawd alone knows who I'll be this time.)

    (Never mind. This is Peter. I see juycl. I see choose an identity. After that, I leave it to the gods.)

  37. My first comment linked a couple of unrelated thoughts. Sorry.

    To clarify - I am an American now living in New Zealand.

    When I was growing up in the US, we would often draw on the sidewalk in front of our house.

    We did this with 'sidewalk chalk', which is the same as regular chalk-board chalk, except thicker in diameter, sometimes longer, and by default available as a multi-colored pack (like crayons) instead of all white.

    As I think back, I'm pretty sure that what we used was often bits and pieces of regular chalk that my parents filched from the University, but we always called it 'sidewalk chalk'

    I was wondering if british children use 'pavement chalk' or if they don't have a special word for it or don't engage in the practice of drawing on the sidewalk at all.

    I don't know what New Zealand Children do. I haven't seen any evidence of sidewalk drawing by the kids in our neighborhood, though.

  38. While the children upstairs from us do write on the pavement with chalk, I believe they do it with chalk from school. If the equivalent of 'sidewalk chalk' is marketed here, it's not done as successfully as it is in the States. But also UK shoppers would be less apt to buy such things (and UK shops/stores less likely to stock such things) because no one has space for big tubs of chalk.

  39. I'm from Central New Jersey, but after college I moved to the PA Dutch Country and started teaching pre-school. We referred to the playground as "macadam", whereas I'd have called it "blacktop", so perhaps shortening tarmacadam to "macadam" is a PA thing.

  40. "sidewalk chalk" would probably get you an ASBO in the UK these days.

  41. Just to confuse matters a little more, there is a street in York called 'Pavement' - and it has both English and US pavements. It does show that the US sense of pavement was known here too, once.

  42. There's also a street in London called Finsbury Pavement.

  43. There are several names for rural or semi-rural footpaths in the UK.
    'Lane' would describe a dirt path between two fields, too narrow to drive a car or cart along, perhaps tarmacked nowadays - sometimes the name persists in a city even if the lane is now a fully-fledged street ( e.g. St Martin's Lane in London - the big church at the south end, i.e. in Trafalgar Square, is St Martin's in the Fields, and so it was in 1720!). Similar words are 'loke' in Norwich and 'loan' in Scotland.

    'Close' is a good one - used by 20-thC planners to describe a cul-de-sac or short street of houses with only one entrance - in Scotland it refers to the enclosed common area of a block of flats. These are not always enclosed by doors, so that it is an extension of the street, and may go straight through to the back. Staircases lead up to the individual flats.

    'Alley' has a more urban feel to it - it usually runs between two buidings or along the back of a street of houses.

    A towpath runs alongside a canal and would be where the horse (or man) walked to tow along a narrow boat or barge. Many of these are now metalled, and used as cycle routes.

    Then there are bridle paths, definitely rural and specific for mounted horses (and pedestrians) only. These would definitely be earth - or mud - underfoot.

  44. I'm a Brit who used to work in a (BrE?) garden centre (not quite equivalent to AmE/BrE nursery, since we didn't just grow plants and sell them and their accoutrements; we also sold garden furniture and the like). And I really wrote to say that my experience chimed with David's (below), who's American, and generally with the experiences of the architects who've commented: pavers are ornamental in some way, whereas paving stones, or paving slabs, are what makes up a pavement/sidewalk when it isn't just poured concrete.

  45. So it's looking like pavers isn't so much AmE as professional jargon.

  46. Hi Lynn
    Interesting that you said "this can be confusing because the road is paved". I would never call a road as paved unless it were built by Romans, a modern road is tarred. To me, paved, means covered by tightly fitted stone (or concrete) paving stones.

  47. Long time reader, first time commenter. Very late comment, but no-one mentioned the U.S. road sign 'Pavement Ends,' which certainly threw me the first time I (BrE) saw one in rural America. Why would I be remotely interested in the fact that there was no more pavement (i.e. sidewalk)? I was also thinking that this was perhaps the first 'pedestrian-friendly' thing I had seen on the U.S. road network. I soon realised my mistake.

  48. My parents grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, and as such I was always familiar with the term pavers as a reference to bricks. They were used for both streets and sidewalks. Purington Pavers are everywhere in Galesburg, to this day. See this history of bricks for a description of the Purington Brick Co. Home Depot sells pavers, though more products are referred to as pavestones.
    Pavement, for me, could be an alternative to using the word sidewalk, or possibly street. Time to hit the pavement. Or, I skinned my knee on the pavement outside. I think it implies the solid, hard, formed material, whereas sidewalk implies the walking path alongside the road, and the idea of traveling somewhere.

  49. Its right that Many black road material is generally known as bitumen. But Most of the countries aware about with the word "paving". Generally its common word.

  50. In Philadelphia, people say pavement, not sidewalk, generally speaking.

  51. The British construction industry uses pavement to mean the roadway, with paving machines (Blaw Knox and Barber Greene pavers were around in the 1950s in the UK, some with wheels, some tracked) laying the material. Since tarmacadam is a mixture of liquid tar and crushed stones (according to the Scotsman who laid the first gravel roads with "stones small enough to put ion your mouth") and tarmac is just a colloquialism for it, I do not see how anyone can trademark the abbreviation for a road surface that has been around for the best part of a century.

    I have heard tarmac used for airport runways, aprons and other paved surfaces for decades.

    I see no problem with Tarmac the construction company, but that is a different matter.

    As for crazy paving, there was a time when any tarred surface would break up or distort in very hot weather. Whitish lines would appear as though creating a jigsaw. Whilst crazy paving usually means randomly shaped slabs of stone, etc used as a surface in a garden, etc, it may have its origin in the way tarred surfaces behaved in hot conditions.

  52. for Pavement vs. Sidewalk in the US, in Philadelphia, PA area they use Pavement. I went to two grades in Elementary School there and was raised in Bucks County. It is the only area of the US that uses Pavement that way...that is one way they can tell you're not a native.

  53. I am Canadian but many of the books I read are written by authors from the USA, in the 'Stephanie Plum' series set in a small city in the state of New Jersey, I often encountered the unfamiliar term 'macaderm' which I could understand from the context to mean what I would call asphalt, and thus I assumed it was the general AmE term. Now I know better. Tarmac I have also heard for it but infrequently and wouldn't use.
    (contrast the also unfamiliar term 'fireplug' which I had to look up as I could not understand from context what one was or what it meant for a person to built like one)

    For me paving or paved would be general terms for covering the ground in a surface layer (which blocks things growing there). And thus areas covered in

    Pavers is a term I am familiar with though I may use paving stones more readily. While I have seen paths paved with actual bricks most (when not real stone) pavers are only visually brick-like but otherwise rather different in composition, non-fired and not suitable for vertical building. I moved a literal (metric) tonne of them a few summers ago when I helped my Dad do a new driveway, patio and pathway at his house.

    Question for the people in the UK; what are the pavements alongside your streets made out of?

    Here I call them sidewalks and while I've seen almost every type of paving imaginable the vast majority are made out of concrete, which (along with being raised up) differentiates them from the street they run beside which is most commonly made out of asphalt(/bitumen/tarmacadam).

  54. An American chiming in: I don't think anyone has accurately identified the normal US use of the word "pavement." Pavement must be a continuous sheet of either concrete or asphalt/blacktop/macadam. Anything that comes in pieces like pavers, stones, or bricks, does not make up pavement, although paver, stone, concrete, and asphalt-clad ground surfaces would all be referred to as "paved."

    Also, "street" is not the same as "pavement." All ground surfaces that are covered in a continuous sheet of concrete or asphalt whether the street, sidewalk, parking lot, yard, playground-- these are all made up of "pavement." "The pavement" would not normally be an American construction except in the sense of "I fell on the pavement." One would never bring an American to an urban setting and ask him to "point out the pavement" and expect anything but a puzzled look. "Point out some pavement" would work, however.

  55. I was looking up the law regarding sidewalk chalk and stumbled across this post. A couple of people commented that, in Philadelphia, people use the word "pavement" rather than "sidewalk". I was born and raised in Philly and the nearby suburbs. I never used the word "pavement" for the pedestrian walkway, only "sidewalk". Some people do say "pavement", but the term is confusing because it also refers to paved road surfaces.

  56. Cris

    Question for the people in the UK; what are the pavements alongside your streets made out of?

    The same as your sidewalks.


    Incidentally, what do brits call 'sidewalk chalk'? or is drawing on the pavement in front of ones' house not something british children do?

    The only pavement chalking's I've ever been familiar with are squares for playing hop-scotch. I suppose we call them 'squares for playing hop-scotch'.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)