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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.