“Hey! How come we drive on parkways and park on driveways? Huh? Huh? Amiright?!”
Good grief. This rusty one-liner’s gotten plenty of mileage, but few realize that the question is actually answerable.
The words “drive” and “park” existed long before automobiles. Remember, whenever you write or speak, you’re voting with your vocabulary. Languages evolve over time and a given term’s meaning is subject to dramatically change based on the whim of its users.
Back in the 1800s, for example, “parking” meant planting trees, flowers, and other bits of vegetation. A “parking place,” therefore, had nothing to do with stationary vehicles. Instead, it was a location specifically designed to encourage diverse, extensive plant growth for non-agricultural purposes.
Yet, many were soon commandeered for an entirely different objective. Historian Kirk Savagewrites, “By the turn of the century, such parking areas were sometimes used to hold horse-drawn carriages on special occasions...When automobiles started to overrun cities in the early twentieth century, parking areas were given over to car storage and the word began to refer to the cars themselves rather than the trees and grass they were replacing.”
During this transitional period, America’s parkways also began taking shape. Metropolitan reformers—who feared the health costs of industrial growth—started establishing wooded parks within cities nationwide, hoping their trees would make urban air more breathable. As automobiles rose in popularity, special car-friendly routes were carved through such parks. Unimaginatively, these were named “parkways”.
So parkways have nothing to do with the actual parking of vehicles. But what about “driveways”? Well, that particular word’s been around since at least 1884 and has essentially meant the same thing ever since—namely, a path that connects somebody’s private property to a public road. However, while lengthy driveways were once the norm (and, hence, enabled more driving), today’s average specimen is little more than a dinky personal parking station.