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shameless pleading






Formerly known as Ishmael.

Dear Word Detective:  This is a bit of a cheat as there are probably three questions in one here.  Staring at the word “lorry” the other day, I realized it was pretty ridiculous.  Our “lorry” is your “truck” and neither seem to have any clear origin.  Then, of course, we say we are having “no truck” with something, meaning that we don’t want to have anything to do with it.  Are there any explanations for “lorry,” “truck” and “truck”? — David, Ripon, Yorkshire, England.

Hey, you’re right.  I’ve just spent a few minutes staring at “lorry” and it is indeed a very silly word for a vehicle.  “Lorry” sounds more like the name of a small, useless fish.  But I may not be a good judge of such things, because I get the same feeling after a few minutes of staring at my own name.  That cannot possibly be my name.  My real name is Frank, or Joe.  Vinny?  Something beginning with a consonant, that’s for sure.  I’m sure I’ll remember it soon.

I would, however, say that your “lorry” is a much nicer-sounding word than our “truck,” which strikes me as the kind of sound you’d make if you were beaned with a softball.  Compared to “truck,” “lorry” is positively euphonious.  Unfortunately, as you have apparently discovered, the roots of “lorry” are a bit mysterious.  Actually, they are very mysterious, and the best guess is that it comes from the obsolete English dialect term “lurry,” meaning “to carry or drag along.”  Unfortunately (again), no one knows where “lurry” came from either, so the trail goes cold at that point.  We do know that “lorry” first appeared in print in the early 19th century meaning “a long, low wagon,” and by 1911 had acquired its modern meaning of “a large motor vehicle used to carry cargo.”

Compared to the fog surrounding “lorry,” the roots of “truck” in the “large vehicle” sense  are satisfyingly clear.  “Truck,” which first appeared in English around 1611 meaning “small wheel or roller” (specifically the sort mounted under cannons aboard warships), is a shortened form of the older word “truckle,” meaning “wheel, roller or pulley,” which appeared in the 15th century and was derived from the Latin “trochlea,” meaning “pulley.”  The first use of “truck” in print in its modern sense of “wheeled vehicle used for transporting heavy items” came in 1774.

When we say that we want to “have no truck with” someone or something, we are using a “truck” completely unrelated to the vehicle kind of “truck.”  When this sort of “truck” first entered English around 1225, derived from the French “troquer,” it meant simply “to exchange something with someone else.”  By the 1400s we were using it to mean “to barter, to sell or exchange commodities for profit,” and, by the 17th century, “truck” had taken on the its more general modern sense of “to have dealings with.”  Today this “truck” is almost always found in the negative phrase “to have no truck with,” i.e., to have no dealings or social contact with (“Mebbe your Ma’s right. Mebbe you hadn’t ought to have no truck with the Forresters,” M.K. Rawlings, The Yearling, 1938).

Incidentally, the one place you’re likely to find that old “sale or barter” sense of “truck” still being used is in the phrase “truck farm,” meaning a small farm producing vegetables, etc., for sale rather than the owner’s own use.

20 comments to Lorry/Truck

  • bigjohn756

    I call the actor who plays House ‘big truck’. But, only to myself, of course. It would be embarrassing if I had to explain it to the public.

  • kevin o'malley

    I was born in the USA. When I first heard the word lorry, I felt it was a child’s slang word so i refused to say it unless i had no other choice. Now I see it has a real meaning and it’s nice to see it’s a real word.

  • no quarter

    aht about truculent?

  • Truck and trade being synonymous, then perhaps truck wagon for trade vehicle would be the obvious progression – then shortened to truck, then reinvented as a verb. Just a thought.

    Lorries, well I’ve always loved them.

  • There is something wonderful in tracing the derivation of words.

  • Coogy

    I drive a HGV/LGV in the UK, a 44 tonne articulated vehicle.

    I know of nobody who calls it a lorry and only a handful of people who call it a truck. Seemingly, if you’re from Manchester(UK) then that big noisy beastie which trundles down the road is called a wagon.

    How d’you like them apples?

  • John

    Lorry being a corruption of lurry, a low wagon, then wagon is from the cart, to my mind one higher off the ground with large wheels. Also wagon was spelt waggon by Sentinel always. My dad drove “lorries”, never trucks that I heard. As a teen I used to go around with a group that played working men’s clubs, and one was called “Carters and Motormens WMC”. In London you have the annual “Cart Marking” ceremony with the Lord Mayor where vehicles of all kinds are paraded before him.

  • Steve

    I from Leeds (Great Britain) and I always said Lorry when I was a kid, lots of people, me included still call them Lorrys even today.

  • Karen

    Always have and always will use lorry :)

  • Dan

    Drove one for near on 30 yrs. & never gave the origin of the word much thought. And, now I know. Much obliged. And, the same with Lorry. Know how to spell it now as well. Again, thanks much for the info. (Learn somethin’ new every day.)

  • vote Crosby

    The common usage of “truck” in the late 1800s and early 1900s, in America, meant: trash, refuse, ric-rac,( definitions 2&3 under NOUN). Early model Fords in rural areas would often have their bodies removed behind the front seat and their owners would lay boards across the frame to create a flat surface. Some would even put rails on the sides. These modified vehicles would be used to move various things, to move truck, and were referred to as “pick-up trucks” (the hyphen was later dropped), and that was how the vehicles were named even after commercial versions were manufactured (if you can find automobiles ads from American advertising in the 1960s and 1970s, you should be able to find this term easily or for a more current example, a Google search for “pickup truck” will display recent truck ads). By the 1980s, the use of “truck” to refer to trash had fallen out of common usage, and many younger people didn’t know the classic definition. The term “pick-up truck” was too long to stick in modern American vernacular, and the “pickup” part was dropped. Leaving “truck” as the name of the vehicles.

    Up until the time of his death, my grandfather would correct me if I tried to refer to the vehicles as “trucks”. He’d tell me, “that’s a pickup truck. Truck on it’s own just means trash.”

  • DJ

    I live in Florida and have a Brit friend from Portsmouth who says lorry.

  • Eric

    Under a rail car is a “truck” (the wheel assembly.) My understanding of the original of the meaning truck was the wheel assembly. These wheel assemblies were used on what we now call trucks. The name of the wheel assembly was generalized to the whole vehicle and the name of truck stuck in the U.S.

  • Jeff

    Great article! In the US (and probably in the UK), if someone if lying to us and we know it, we just say to them “I don’t buy it.” That sounds something like the same meaning of “have no truck with”.

  • Norman

    I’m from Newcastle upon Tyne UK.
    I’ve been an HGV driver for 30 years and have noticed unfortunately, more and more people using the term ‘truck’ nowadays!
    Maybe it’s the OLD fart in me but it’ll always be a wagon,unit,motor or lorry in my eyes.
    Truck is an Americanism dragged screaming and kicking, probably from the worst film (movie) ever made….Convoy!

    Ten four rubber duck!

  • Robby

    As for a “Truck.” You are right in thinking it came from the 4 wheels of a ship-borne cannon. The cannon itself was not permanently attached to the Truck, but was commonly heavy enoght to remain in place on the truck. It was common to use cannon trucks as helpers for moving heavy things around the deck. It was also a means of moving heavy objects around the dock area. The saying was “If it’s too heavy to move by hand, then truck it.” This of course expanded to any vehicle that had 4 wheels. And so-on.
    The word used in the UK “Lorry, whilst quite different from “Truck” had a similar origin. The English slang meaning “a lot of” is truncated even today in the North of England to “A lorr of.” Quite often you’ll hear “A Lorrov love” or a “lorrov money” for example. Dockside you’d hear “A lorrovstuff” being moved around by cannon truck or 4 wheel cart. The whole load being a “Lorrov or even a Lorry load.” Get it?

  • Bob

    A round wheel of cheese is called a truckle.

  • Ian W

    The French word for a heavy vehicles is poid lourdes. I had always thought that the English lorry was an English contraction of the French Lourdes. It may well be that the origin of lurry was that too.

  • Martin York

    Perhaps. But the fact that it its first use was not noted until the early 19th century, may point to a different derivation. Though here its is attributed to a long, low wagon but how is that known? An alternative possibility is that it was brought back from the Napoleonic Wars to describe what we would now call a van,; an enclosed vehicle with doors. The French used battlefield ambulances for the first time to collect the wounded, possibly the first real attempt to look after the soldier, and this may have become a talking point amongst the ranks of other nations. These vans were invented and instituted by Baron Larrey and may well have become known as Larreys, being unique.

  • John K

    I wonder if there’s any connection to the French “lourd” for heavy, but I haven’t found any etymological reference to that.

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