Cars and Carriages

By Mark Nichol - 4 minute read

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Car and carriage, and many other words containing the element car, derive from the Latin word carrus, meaning “two-wheeled wagon.” This post lists and defines many of the words descended from carrus.

A car is a passenger vehicle designed to be driven on roads; autocar and motorcar are outdated terms used in the early days of automotive travel to describe cars so as not to have them be confused with train cars and streetcars, which were dominant modes of travel at the time.

A streetcar is a public passenger vehicle, running on a network of rails within a city, that can be drawn by horses (this type was sometimes called a horsecar) or propelled by electricity; one drawn by cables is sometimes called a cable car.

Car also describes a segment of a railroad train, and terms for specialized cars include boxcar, denoting an enclosed car for carrying freight, flatcar, which refers to a platform freight car, and “stock car,” meaning “a ventilated boxcar for hauling livestock.” (“Stock car” also describes a racing car with a stock, or mass-produced, chassis and a customized car body.)

A car wash is a public facility for cleaning cars, either staffed or self-service with coin-operated equipment. A carpool is an arrangement in which two or more people share a car driven by one of them to reach a common destination. A carport is an area, like a garage but generally with only a roof on posts and no walls, for storing vehicles. (“Car park” is a British English term for a parking garage or parking lot.) To be carsick is to become nauseated by the motion of a car; the ailment is called carsickness.

Carriage originally denoted the act of carrying but came to apply to a vehicle that carries people, including a train car; the meaning was extended to refer to one’s posture as well as specialized senses pertaining to a moveable part of a machine, such as a typewriter’s carriage, or to having a pathogen in one’s body.

Carry also derives from carrus; among the most versatile of verbs, it has numerous senses pertaining to bearing, moving, or directing something from one place to another or to associated actions. But it is also employed as a noun, as in the case of a method of bearing something, as in describing the advance of a football player with the ball. A carrier is an entity that carries something, and a carryall is a vehicle or a large bag; the latter word stems by folk etymology from the French term carriole.

Chariot, denoting an ancient two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle, is, with charioteer, derived from the Old French verb charrier, meaning “transport,” by way of Middle French and Middle English. The word, as well as chariotee, a diminutive of chariot, and “post chariot,” pertain to types of carriage used before the automotive age.

Charabanc is a British English word for a sightseeing bus; the term is derived from the French phrase char à bancs, meaning “wagon with benches.”

Carousel, originally describing a jousting match and later pertaining to an amusement ride in which people mount statues of horses or other animals set on a revolving platform, is from the Italian word carusiello, possibly descended from carrus.

Cart and its compound variations (from cartwheel to “shopping cart”) are unrelated, stemming from an Old English word, related to the Dutch word for basket, that likely alluded to the fact that early carts often included a body made of wickerwork. However, charette (also spelled charrette), a word originally pertaining to a cart used to carry drawings—by extension, it now describes a meeting involving architectural plans—is French for “little cart” and is from carrus. (The modern sense might derive from the notion of viewing and discussing architectural drawings spread out on a cart at a building site.)

However, a few words that may not be easily recognized as belonging to the same family do stem from carrus, including career, which means “course” or “passage” and by extension came to denote a field or profession one pursues. As a verb, it describes speeding along a road or other course. (However, careen, denoting turning something over or a side-to-side movement, is unrelated.)

Carrack, the word for a sailing vessel common during the 1400s and 1500s, derives from an Arabic word for “merchant ship” that may have been borrowed from the Latin term carricare, meaning “load a car.” Cargo, meaning “goods conveyed by a vehicle or vessel,” stems from the same word by way of Spanish, and that language is also the source of supercargo, denoting a ship’s officer responsible for freight and related matters. Carricare is also the source of cark, an obscure word used as a noun or a verb to refer to trouble or worry, from the notion of a burden.

It is also the origin of charge, which originally referred to a load or a weight carried but now has a variety of meanings, including “command” or “supervision,” “obligation,” “expense,” or “complaint,” “criticism,” or “assertion of guilt.” It also describes a rush, especially of attacking mounted soldiers, and still refers to a load of in the sense of a quantity of electricity or explosives. In addition, it serves as a verb pertaining to these senses.

A charger is something used in charging, such as a warhorse or a device for holding or reinforcing a weapon or an energy source. and something that can be charged is chargeable. Recharge means “charge again,” and something that can be charged again is rechargeable. A countercharge is a response to a charge, and overcharge and undercharge denote excessive or insufficient charging, while supercharge refers to applying energy, pressure, or tension and a surcharge is an extra charge, usually in the financial sense of an additional fee. The noun “chargé d’affaires,” borrowed directly from the French phrase meaning “charged with affairs” (and pronounced the same), denotes a deputy of an ambassador or other senior diplomat.

Carpenter, meaning “worker who builds and repairs wood structures” (from a Latin word denoting a wagon maker), and carpentry, referring to the practice, are related to carrus.

Although caricature is in a sense a synonym of character, in that both pertain to a representation of a person, and the terms are pronounced similarly and appear as if they might share a root, they are unrelated: Character, by way of Latin, is from the Greek word kharacter, meaning “engraved mark”; it retains its original sense of “symbol” but also developed the meaning of “person in a work of fiction,” then simply “person” (and later “eccentric person”) as well as “the sum of one’s defining qualities,” or “integrity.”

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3 Responses to “Cars and Carriages”

  • Tutoriage

    I always curious about origin of the words. It was interesting to read article and very informative. Thank you!

  • D.A.W.

    I don’t understand at all that I added a comment with some more information, but it disappeared!

  • D.A.W.

    I don’t understand at all that I added something, but I got “waiting for a response from Daily Writing Tips”, and I waited, and I waited, and I waited some more.
    Waited, waited, waited, for no particular reason except for malfunctions on your part.
    If you have a malfunction, then you should be notified of it immediately!

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