30-Second Word Whoop: “Pedestrian”

On the surface, “pedestrian” means one who walks. As species skills go, walking upright is an impressive advancement.

How, then, has the word devolved into meaning plebian, plain, dull or unsophisticated?

Seems a long distance for a word to travel.

First encountered in 1793, the English word derives from the Latin pedester (“going on foot”). Pedester arose in contrast to equester (“on horseback”), cementing a class distinction right off. Think royal equestrian vs. barefoot peasant.

Once cars and jet planes surpassed horses for getting around, mass transit arrived as the great equalizer, right? Wrong. More “commoners” than “the well-heeled” seem to use public transportation — poor cleaning ladies, lugging home sacks of groceries in the rain.

Still, pedestrians possess power. They can stop traffic! Marching, they topple autocrats or push social change. Strength in numbers and, with all that walking, they’re perhaps stronger in constitution than fat cats out violating the HOV lane in their gas-guzzling SUVs.

Maybe someday, after our fossil fuel fixation cripples us, pedestrians will be in the power seat. It’ll be most civilized to walk in eco-smart walkable enclaves, and the “masses” will be distinguished only by body mass. Prosaic on Prozac.

And instead of pedestrian crossing signs, herald and hail … the zebra car!

9 Signs (and Co-Signs) of Our Times

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About Terry Byrne

Writer-editor with deep reservations about holding her tongue. Fan of both nature and nurture. Lifelong fascination with gender studies, sexuality, music and brainpower.

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