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GRIDLOCK

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GRIDLOCK

Postby Dr. Goodword » Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:18 pm

• gridlock •


Pronunciation: grid-lahk • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. A traffic jam involving a grid of city streets such that no movement is possible. 2. An impasse, a deadlock, a situation in which the sides cannot agree and refuse to compromise.

Notes: Gridlock was created to describe traffic, but it is used most often in the context of Washington politics, political or congressional gridlock. What is congressional gridlock? Politicians make promises during their campaign, and then go to Washington and try to keep them without compromising. Today's Good Word is another lexical orphan: no derivational relatives, though it may be used as a verb.

In Play: The original meaning of today's word pertains to traffic: "I'm sorry I'm late. I sat in a gridlock for 30 minutes around 5th Avenue and then traffic just crawled along from there on up." As mentioned before, gridlock is associated most closely with the US congress: "The President's jobs bill was strangled in political gridlock."

Word History: Today's Good Word is unusual in that we know exactly when and where it originates. It was coined by two U.S. transportation engineers, Roy Cottam and Sam Schwartz, working for the New York Traffic Department. The term emerged during a strike by city transit workers in early 1980. According to Schwartz, "One day, Roy spoke of his fears [that] if we closed the streets in the Theater District, the grid system would 'lock-up' and all traffic would grind to a halt. Soon we simply juxtaposed the word[s], and the term gridlock was born." (We don't want to leave the impression of any gridlock at alphaDictionary about showing our gratitude to Albert Skiles for suggesting today's Good Word.)
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:01 pm

This word sent me scrabbling through various dictionaries as I could not believe I did not hear it growing up in the 40's and 50's. Finally Wikipedia, under the heading of "gridlock," tells the same story except with Schwarz's comment that the word was used in his NYC department as early as 1971. The implication is that it was an internal term. You older guys stretch your memory to see whether it was around at an earlier date. I intend while reading older books to notice if I find this word. If so, I'll post it here.
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:07 am

My memory serves me pretty well as to when I began hearing a word used and in what context. Of course when I first heard a word has nothing to do with the stated age of the word unless I am sure the word is older than that stated age. Perry, I can't remember having heard the word gridlock prior the 1980s. It is not a word I use often, if at all.
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby MTC » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:46 am

A new word arrives without warning. Suddenly it is everywhere and nowhere in particular, on T.V., in newspapers, on the radio. Like a subatomic particle, a new word can be many places at once. And no one thinks to look at their watch when a new word arrives. Is it any wonder then why we are so poor at tracing the origins of new words like "gridlock?"

If a new word is especially appealing, many will claim credit for its coinage, or do the next best thing--imitate. That's why we have soundalike words like "gridtalk," "gridwalk," and "gridrock," some of which may eventually join "gridlock" in the dictionary.

But what is "gridlock's" special appeal? Why does it have such currency, and why does it have imitators?
For a number of reasons. "Gridlock" is about a familiar, shared experience , "locked" in our cars, "locked" in a traffic jam with our fellow commuters, looking out our windows in paradoxically isolated, but collective frustration. Also "gridlock" links to the already familiar concept of "traffic grid," making it easier to understand. And "gridlock" sounds like what it means. We can hear the locking mechanism catch and lock in two syllables, "grid" and "lock," snapping closed with a final "ck," like a real lock. The opening "gr" sound captures the anger and frustration generated by a traffic jam, fusing the emotional and the intellectual component of "gridlock's" meaning. Finally, "gridlock" is a handy, compact word, ready for everyday use. These are only a few of the many reasons for "gridlock's" appeal.

"Gridlock" is really a very short poem, a minor miracle. It joins an abundance of colorful words in our rich, slang vocabulary.
Last edited by MTC on Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:36 pm, edited 9 times in total.
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby LukeJavan8 » Tue Oct 16, 2012 11:55 am

The picture of the roundabout reminds me that the
city here is installing them in various places. There is
a sign at the entrance to each which states "Yield to traffic
in roundabout". Now I can be the second auto there, but
there is a car in the roundabout, and another following and
another and another and another, and they all keep coming
leaving me to wait (unless I inch out illegally) for up to
a dozen or more. I am forced to wait because they are
in the roundabout and keep coming, tho' I was the second
car there. Makes no sense.
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Oct 16, 2012 2:03 pm

I thought the USA had rid itself of those traffic snarls called roundabouts by the British, and formerly called traffic circles in the USA. The DFW Metroplex had many of them fifty years ago. They are all gone now. To me, at home or abroad, roundabouts spell trouble. There was a certain roundabout near Heathrow Airport in England where I have spent many a dreary hour hoping to get on, and then to get off the beast. Luke, my sympathy goes out to you and to Omaha. We will probably hear from some of our British friends with their takes on roundabouts.
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue Oct 16, 2012 5:47 pm

I propose a new category of definitions: poetic explications authored by MTC. I really like the one above!
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby MTC » Wed Oct 17, 2012 7:30 am

Thank you for the kind words and encouragement, Perry.
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby call_copse » Wed Oct 17, 2012 10:59 am

Nice exposition indeed MTC.

On roundabouts I offer without comment a link to the grandaddy:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Roundabout_(Swindon)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPANKRHL9HU

OK, I'll comment - it is regarded by many as the scariest junction in the UK. It's not really that bad though just take each one as they come ;-)
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby LukeJavan8 » Wed Oct 17, 2012 11:24 am

I've never thought of them as scary, but now that you mention
it, they could be. I am more of the frame of mind that they
are annoying, especially at 'rush hour' and very aggravating.
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby MTC » Wed Oct 17, 2012 6:26 pm

"Gridlock" followed by "stampede," certainly a contrary choice of words. Or perhaps rush hour stampedes lead to gridlock?
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Re: GRIDLOCK

Postby LukeJavan8 » Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:33 am

I think the biggest stampede here occurs when the schools
let out. I have two high schools within 3 blocks, one private
and the other public. And when that bell rings it is
utter mayhem trying to get anywhere for at least a half hour.
The five o'clock rush hour is next, but seems more controlled.
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