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Why Is a Pothole Called a Pothole?

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Why is a Pothole Called a Pothole?

Why is a pothole called a pothole?

For such a simple word, it has quite a complicated history. Why is a pothole called a pothole? As it turns out, no one really knows, but there are a few worthwhile explanations.


The simplest is of a linguistic nature. The word “pothole” can be split into two parts—“pot” and “hole.” The latter is fairly self-explanatory no matter which way you look at it. But why “pot”? In Middle English, “pot” meant “a deep hole.” Today, it may also mean something of cylindrical shape, like a pot used for cooking. Either way, the combination of the two parts seems like a good way to describe those cylindrical holes in the ground that can cause so much damage.

There are other theories behind the name. Some say potholes are so called because of the potters who dug up chunks of clay from the Roman Empire’s smooth roadways, more than 3,000 years ago. The clay became pots and those who rode over the holes in the ground knew they were created by potters, which led to their being called “potholes.” Admittedly, this is a somewhat implausible theory, but still fun to think about!

Furthermore, in the 1820s, American geologists and civil engineers referred to cylindrical holes in river rock as “potholes,” which formed naturally as a result of erosion. There are also several geological formations that have earned the moniker, such as the 38-feet deep and 42-feet wide Archbald Pothole in eastern Pennsylvania, though to have been created during the Wisconsin Glacial Period 70,000 years ago.

Regardless of its origin, it didn’t take long after the invention of the car for the term to be applied to roads—Americans have been complaining about potholes since as early as 1909!