A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why do we drive on the parkway and park on the driveway?

June 19, 1987

Dear Cecil:

Please answer this question--I've been lying awake nights just wondering. Why do we drive on the parkway and park in the driveway?

Cecil replies:

Believe it or not, this is the third time I've gotten this question in as many months. It must be the sunspots.

Let's get one thing cleared up right off the bat: you can drive on the driveway. Indeed, if you'll permit me to wax philosophical for a moment, this is the very essence of drivewayness--to enable you to drive from the street to your garage. Moreover, you can park on the parkway, if you're willing to risk the wrath of the law. I don't know that this clarifies things much, but it seemed like a point worth making.

I think the crux of the issue, however — I love using words like crux — is the dual meaning of "park."

Park in the sense of tended greenery and park in the sense of stowing your vehicle, though deriving from the same root, diverged in meaning long ago. In Old French, a parc was an enclosure. To this day a military park means an area where vehicles are stored and serviced. As early as 1812 there was a verb "to park," meaning to store one's howitzers in a military park. This carried over to carriages and ultimately to any sort of vehicle.

Our notion of landscaped parks, meanwhile, derives from the medieval practice of enclosing game preserves for the use of the aristocracy. The term was later applied to the grounds around a country estate, then to royal parks in London to which the proles were grudgingly admitted, and finally to any landscaped public grounds. The idea of enclosure is still evident in expressions like "ball park," for an enclosed playing field. Any more questions, smart stuff?

Dear Cecil:

Thank you for clearing up the driveway/parkway issue. Along the same lines, why is it that kidnapping is a federal offense, while catnapping is merely an enjoyable pastime?

Cecil replies:

Don't push it, Kathleen.

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