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Here’s Why You Drive on Parkways and Park on Driveways

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Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway
Photo: Matthew Paulson

Words are weird. One of the best weird language things in the world of driving is the old joke, “Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?” This oft-repeated question is the source of much word-based humor, and even became part of a comedy act by George Carlin.

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At first glance, he seems to have a point—the word parkway has the word “park” right in it, so why don’t we park there? And you can hardly drive much on your 20-foot driveway before hitting your house or ending up back in the street. This is because, when you look backwards at the history of words, the English language is a wriggling thing, building on the words before it in unpredictable directions.

With that in mind, Merriam-Webster reports that the words driveway and parkway both came into written use way before cars, in the 1800s. At the time, a parkway was broad road through a park. So, you would be able to spend a lovely time driving your carriage along a parkway.

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Driveway, though, started a little before that, and actually referred to what you did on it rather than its location. Driveways were paths for driving, and typically ran alongside barns so that wagons could drive up, unload or offload cargo, and go along their way. Eventually, driveways became handy places to park your vehicles, and as suburbs appeared the driveway became the primary spot to stow the family car.

News Source: Merriam-Webster