Car Words for Car Nerds


We use so many strange terms when talking about cars that it’s easy to not even consider where those words come from and why we use them. But at Butler Automotive, we’ve never been about doing what is easy. So without further ado, here is the first installment in a series of blogs that dive into the ‘why’ behind the car-words we take for granted.

And what better place to start than the word “car?”

It’s hard to say exactly where most words come from with complete certainty, but the case for the origin of the word “car” seems pretty ironclad. We English-speakers use words that can be traced back to languages from all over the world, but our language has a special fondness for Latin and Greek words (automobile, for example, borrows its halves from both.) So it isn’t much of a stretch to see the Latin word carrus, meaning a wheeled vehicle, and see where we get “car” from. We wonder if people a couple thousand years ago got anxious about carrus dealerships…

And what about the word we use for unusually bad cars, “lemons?”

We like the lemon fruit as much as anyone, especially when you attach “-ade” to it, so how did it come to be associated with the worst cars on the road? Simply put, because the face you make when your new, beautiful car suddenly stops moving is similar to the face you make when you bite into a lemon. In the early 20th-century, bad products were called lemons because they left a sour taste in your mouth. Volkswagen brought the term to the masses with a wildly successful ad campaign in the 1960s, and the U.S. passed “lemon laws” to protect consumers just a few years later. Just don’t tell European carmaker Citroen, whose name means “lemon” in Dutch.

Thus concludes the first run of our car etymology showcase – what car words have you always wondered about?


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