• turnpike •
Pronunciation: têrn-paik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A barrier across a road preventing certain types of traffic or to collect tolls. 2. (Eastern US) An expressway on which tolls are collected.
Notes: Today's Good Word is rarely used in the English-speaking world except in the eastern United States. Ah, the open road.The original turnpike, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, is still in use today. It has been joined by turnpikes in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. Turnpikes are usually distinguished from other expressways by controlled access, emergency call boxes, and service plazas with gas stations and restaurants. This word is shortened in US slang to simply pike and the future is often what is "coming down the pike".
In Play: Today's word is resistant to figurative use—it means what it means and nothing else: "Helen got lost looking for the turnpike and could have gotten to the meeting faster had she driven there over back roads." Turnpikes are just a special kind of road with pretty much identical service plazas: "When William Arami saw June McBride sitting in a cafe at a turnpike service plaza, he fell head over heels in love with her."
Word History: The origin of today's word was a pike (a long pointed weapon) placed in a roadway that could be turned to allow friendly visitors to pass but left in place for unfriendly ones. The word next came to refer to any horizontal crossbeam turning on a vertical pinion, originally designed to repel horse traffic but allow foot traffic. This sense of the word has been replaced by turnstile. The original meaning of turnpike persisted, though, and came to mean a barrier that stopped traffic in order to collect a toll from drivers. From there it came to refer to roads with toll barriers themselves. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world such roads are called simply toll roads. In the Eastern US though today's Good Word was revived during the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (1937-1956), then passed on to other states as they built their own. (Thank you, Susan Champlin, lover of the open turnpike, for suggesting today's historically interesting Good Word.)