TRAFFIC

Traffic in Wellington! It forced us to make a cautious way through the streets. We were discussing the problem when a small voice came from the back seat of the car, “What’s traffic, Muvver?”

That was a long time ago, but she might well ask. Nobody knows where the word came from though there are varying forms of it which appear in French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Initially, in the 16th century, traffic was used for transactions in trade. We took it from the French – but its come a long way since then. Though we know little about traffic, we know plenty about its components.

Take car for instance: now sleek, fast, and comfortable, it began life in the 14th century, as a two- wheeled wagon. It’s gone through many changes, becoming ever more smooth. Romans would be astounded if they could see today’s car, but it’s to them we owe the name from carrus, chariot.

Caravans we see in the summer . We’ve had this word for a long time since the 14th century, in fact. It brings a touch of romance if you’ll let it in. The word is eastern, coming from Persian, karwan. The original caravan was a company of folk, travelling through the desert.

Trains in this country began as ‘Puff Puffs’ all smoke and steam and flying ash, pushing proudly through cities, towns and countryside, with the inevitable cow-catcher in front. How different is the modern version. Brand new trains are arriving on our scene shortly. But why call them trains?

Train originally meant ‘that part of a garment which trailed’ the long train of a bridal gown, for instance a gentle beginning. We took this word from the French in the 14th century, but much has happened to it since One meaning is a ‘sequence of events’ for example ‘a train disasters’.

Goods trains, all grunt and power and determination, roll through Kāpiti on a regular basis. Anyone prepared to look can see that the engine hauls dozens of wagons. From a Latin verb trahere to draw, and with ‘sequence’ the basic meaning of train, our trains are well named.

Today the motor cycle and the bicycle are seen with new eyes, with petrol prices rising. The motor cycle is no longer seen as ‘an expensive way of sitting in a draught’, but as a great petrol saver.

Cycle, the word goes back a long way to the 14th century in fact, made up from the Greek kuklos. Originally, however the word was used of time, – the cycle of the year; or of a series, say a series of poems relating to an event. In the 19th century, with new inventions coming along, there was need of some word and though English had wheel, cycle was chosen.

The bus is a 19th century borrowing. There’s triumph in its very name, for in full the word is omnibus, translating exactly from Latin as ‘for all’. “Move farther down the bus” says the driver. “E ‘aint me father, e’s me uncle.” The bus is a great people mover.

Tram. Though it can be dated from the 14th century tram has no real pedigree. It’s thought that it was once a frame or truck for carrying coal baskets up from the mine, perhaps originally by hand, later drawn as a sled on wheels.

Taxi – foreshortened from taximeter cab, this is fitted with an automatic machine to measure distance travelled and the cost owing. We took this 20th century word to the French taxe tariff + Greek metron, meter.

Limousine This elongated car exudes wealth and luxury. With a glass barrier separating driver and passenger it has that extra touch of class. Many a time it sets off a bridal party magnificently. The word arrived in English in the 20th century; but let’s take a look at its origin, bring it down to its real level. The limousine is named after Limosin a province in France; the province is named after a caped cloak, limosin, worn by the natives of the province.

You can’t explain traffic when you’re driving, but to check up on its components takes you to many places, many times and eras.

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