Smylers got in touch recently with this observation:

I found myself being surprised by the word “mobility”, and was wondering if there's a BrE/AmE difference? Enterprise Rent-a-Car emailed to say they're introducing a new brand: Enterprise Mobility

That made me think of vehicles adapted for wheelchair users, or those who otherwise have limited personal mobility. But apparently it's the overall brand for various transport services; “mobility” is being used to mean “travelling in a vehicle”, rather than “travelling on foot”.

There's no reason why the unqualified word should have one or the other meaning. But to my British brain, “mobility” makes me think of “mobility scooters” or “mobility aids” — such as those provided by Mobility People, whom you linked to in 2008:

It's an interesting one. 

The word mobility seems a bit more common in BrE in the the News on the Web corpus: you find about 11 mobility per million words in the US, versus about 13 per million in the UK. Those British uses tend to relate to a couple of domains: physical (dis)ability and social class.

It's not that Americans don't use mobility in that way. You can definitely find phrases like mobility scooter (as can be seen at this US electric wheelchair retailer) in AmE. (Though when I asked my brother what those things are called, he didn't use the word mobility, just scooter.) Nevertheless, this (dis)ability-related use of mobility used a lot more in BrE:

The (dis)ability-related uses of mobility really take off in this corpus after 2021. For instance, mobility issues (which could refer to different kinds of mobility, but mostly doesn't) had only 0.30 per million (across countries) in 2019, but 0.85 per million in 2022. 

Both AmE and BrE use mobility for metaphorical movement, as in social mobility. 

Why so much more talk of social mobility in the UK? Because the Tory government had appointed a "Social Mobility Tsar" during the period that this corpus was collected. (The hits for tsar in BrE are similarly out-of-whack.) 

If instead of asking the corpus for particular phrases like these and instead ask it to tell us which combinations with mobility are statistically "most American" and "most British", the results are interesting. On the left are the "most American" ones*—the greener, the more not-British they are.  And vice versa on the right. 
*This doesn't mean that these are the most common phrases with mobility in either country. And it doesn't mean that the other country doesn't use these phrases. It means that one country uses them surprisingly more than the other.

mobility + noun

Noun + mobility

Adjective + mobility

The thing to notice here is how much longer the green lists are on the American side of the second two charts, where mobility is modified by another word. AmE writers seem to have more kinds of mobility than BrE writers do. Where you see something like this, it's reasonable to suspect that more phrases = more meanings, or at least more domains in which the word is used.  

Sure enough, the BrE side is almost entirely characterized by phrases used in talking about physical (dis)ability and social mobility. (Green Mobility there refers to an electric car [BrE] hire /[AmE] rental company in continental Europe.) But the AmE side has other themes coming through: family mobility is about the Massachusetts Work and Family Mobility Act, which is about what kind of paperwork you need to get a (AmE) driver's/(BrE) driving licen{c/s}e. Electrophoretic mobility refers to a chemistry thing that I'm not going to try to understand. Mobility wing mostly refers to sections (Air Mobility Wings) of the US Air Force Reserve. And so forth.

Some of the uses, for example, commercial mobility, refer to means of transport(ation), and that's the use that Enterprise is picking up on in their branding. So there we go! It does look like branding that would work better in the US than the UK. Thanks, Smylers!


  1. When I hear mobility as part of a company name my immediate thought is that it's a cell phone carrier. I was confused at first as to 1) why Enterprise would be expanding into that area and 2) why they would advertise phone service with a picture of people driving! (I'm Canadian FWIW.)

  2. As a Brit who has often attended science fiction conventions in the US, and where SF fans are getting older, I'm sure I've heard mobility scooters called mobies.

    1. I can find definitions of mobie as 'mobile phone' (BrE/AusE), but the dictionaries haven't caught on to a 'mobility scooter' meaning. But there is a brand of scooter in sold in US called 'MobiFree', it looks like.


    2. SF fandom has been coining new terms in the their subculture for nearly 100 years. Wouldn't surprise me that this is unique to fandom. (cf. fanzine, egoboo.) I see that the site for next year's World SF convention in Glasgow has a bit about mobi rental.

  3. Is it possible the skew in usage is related to how much public assistance is available in the UK with what are known here as 'mobility issues', as compared to that available in the US?

    1. There could be many reasons. I'd think of likelihood of car ownership as one. And in the UK, building and pavement accessibility is so much worse, for historical and space reasons, which probably raises the need to talk about physical mobility.

    2. or, to be more precise: ' often much worse...'

  4. "Micromobility" is being used here in the US to refer to--as journalist Clive Thompson puts it--"vehicles smaller than a car."

  5. Christian Johnson27 November, 2023 04:02

    In my recent, not-entirely-voluntary relocation from Hong Kong to my native US, I became acutely aware of another "mobility" context lurking in some of your corpus results: Mobility as an HR benefit, meaning "paying relocation costs for you/your family." For which I am entirely grateful, appropriate to what's still Thanksgiving weekend!

  6. In EU project terminology "mobility" has become a different kind of noun, meaning something like "one person travelling to another country for a meeting/learning experience/visit to some example of something or other/internship/etc". It's very common to hear sentences like "We've got 5 mobilities in this project". EU project terminology is not something which is likely to have much effect on UK English any more (more's the pity), but this usage is very common in what might be termed European English.

  7. I hadn't really realised, until I read this post, the difference in my (UK, Southern, elderly) brain between "mobile", which is my telephone, and "mobility" which is very much linked to "scooter" (my mother's new toy!).

  8. Here on Canada's left coast, I encountered a delightfully witty elderly member of the UK's landed gentry. He had grown up in a stately home dating from the 16c. When I met him, however, he was living in a a very modest cottage on Gabriola Island. In his languid RP he smilingly explained to me, "I've been downwardly mobile all my life".

  9. As a Midwestern American, I've really only encountered "mobility" in three ways--in a health-related context (How well a patient can get around?), in a job context (Can I take my skills to a new job?), or in military context. The latter is from working at US Transportation Command, which sits next to Air Mobility Command and deals with air mobility wings all the time.


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