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.

The One Letter in the Alphabet That Can't Be Silent

Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images
Hafiez Razali, iStock via Getty Images

The English language can be baffling at times—just look to words like phlegm, receipt, and chthonic for proof. Silent letters are unavoidable. Almost every word in the alphabet is occasionally guilty of taking up space without contributing anything, but there is one exception. According to Merriam-Webster, V is the only letter in English that consistently makes itself heard.

No matter where it appears, whether it's in love, voice, or divisive, V plays a vital role. Most letters are phonetic chameleons: That's why the C sounds different in cat and city, and why the g sounds like nothing at all in gnash. V is unique in that it never goes through an identity crisis.

There are a few letters that rival V's special status. Z is only silent in words we borrowed from the French, like chez, laissez-faire, and rendezvous. The one silent J in the entire English language appears in marijuana, a term of Spanish origin. But even accounting for words we've adopted from other tongues, there's not one example of a silent V in the English dictionary.

The prevalence of silent letters is just one frustrating aspect of our language. Here are a few more obstacles foreign speakers must encounter when learning English.

Presidents Day vs. President's Day vs. Presidents' Day: Which One Is It?

welcomia/iStock via Getty Images
welcomia/iStock via Getty Images

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" implies that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the more than 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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