Double-Parking, Straddle, and To Seek Out

By Maeve Maddox

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I find language fodder everywhere.

This post was prompted by a Facebook video clip.

Situation
A woman is loading her groceries. The woman’s car is barely over the painted line on her left. A red car has parked as closely as possible to her driver’s side. The owner of the red car lurks in hiding to film the woman’s predictable difficulty. Once the woman has finished struggling across her passenger seat, the owner of the red car comes out of hiding, gets into his car, and zips off through the empty space in front of him.

The video has a header and an accompanying text.

Header: Woman pays the price for double parking.

Double-parking
Double-parking takes a hyphen. It is an expression associated with parking on a street, not in a parking lot. It refers to the practice of parking a car next another car that is already parked in a space parallel to the curb.

Apparently, parking too close to the car in the next space has become common. I’ve seen several “teach them a lesson” videos like this one, in which self-styled parking police deliberately pen in a car to “punish” the unknown driver. The videos are billed as “funny car pranks.” The problem is so common that a recent TV new car commercial promotes a remote backup feature.

We could use a new term for parking too close to another car in a parking lot. Because “double-parking” refers to street parking, I suggest “squeeze-parking” for the phenomenon of parking too close to a neighboring car in a store parking lot.

In the text that accompanies the video, the woman’s car is described as straddling the line.

straddling
This word has acquired numerous figurative meanings, but it started out as a word to describe standing, sitting, or walking with legs wide apart. In reference to the human body, the action places exactly half on each side of the straddle. For a car to straddle a parking line, it seems to me that the car would have to be more or less centered on the line, half on each side. I have seen cars parked that way in the past, presumably to discourage other cars from coming too close. I doubt the technique works anymore.

The narrator of the video says, “the owner [of the red car] saw her and immediately sought out on a mission to teach her a valuable lesson.”

sought out on a mission
This error could derive from a mishearing of the expression “to set out.”

Sought is the past form of seek, an old-fashioned verb meaning, “to look for.” In modern English, seek and sought can carry a connotation of lofty aspiration. For example, the mission of the Starship Enterprise:

to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

And Tennyson’s stirring paean to the remaining strengths of old age:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Seek and sought often imply searching with great effort and/or urgency.

We sought refuge in doorways and under vehicles.
More than 100 men have sought shelter at the mission on some nights this winter.

The phrasal verb seek out differs from the single verb seek. One seeks office, seeks help, seeks one’s fortune, but seeks out specific people or things that may be hard to find:

They sought out dying men on the battlefield and lay beside them to comfort them.
Stopping in Dubai, he sought out Zovko, one of his platoon mates from Fort Bragg
During tough economic times, consumers will always seek out affordable splurges.

Finally, sought-after, sometimes seen without a hyphen, is a popular qualifier:

Watson also has become a much sought after fashion model, admired for her style.
She also happens to be one of the most sought-after personal trainers in Europe.
This is one of the premier and sought after organizations in the Piedmont Triad.
Mundos also became the Philippine government’s most sought-after terrorist.

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