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.

Amazon's Best Black Friday Deals: Tech, Video Games, Kitchen Appliances, Clothing, and More

Amazon
Amazon

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What Is a Scuttlebutt, and Why Do We Like to Hear It?

Photo by Courtney Nuss on Unsplash

Casual conversation is home to a variety of prompts. You might ask someone how they’re doing, what’s new, or if they’ve done anything interesting recently. Sometimes, you can ask them what the scuttlebutt is. “What’s the scuttlebutt?” you’d say, for example, and then they’d reply with the solicited scuttlebutt.

We can easily infer that scuttlebutt is a slang term for information or maybe even gossip. But what exactly is scuttlebutt, and why did it become associated with idle water cooler talk?

According to Merriam-Webster, a scuttlebutt referred to a cask on sailing ships in the 1800s that contained drinking water for those on board. It was later used as the name of the drinking fountain found on a ship or in a Naval installation. The cask was known as a butt, while scuttle was taken from the French word escoutilles and means hatch or hole. A scuttlebutt was therefore a hatch in the cask.

Because sailors usually received orders from shouting supervisors, talking amongst themselves was discouraged. Since sailors could congregate around the fountain, it became a place to finally catch up and exchange gossip, making scuttlebutt synonymous with casual conversation. The scuttlebutt was really the only place to do it.

Nautical technology made the scuttlebutt obsolete, but the term endured, becoming a catch-all word for unfounded rumors.

The next time someone asks you what the scuttlebutt is, now you can tell them.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.