Printable Version
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 a lexical orphan: no derivational relatives.

In Play: The original meaning of today's word pertains to traffic: "I'm sorry I'm late. I was caught in 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. Gr-r-r-r-r! 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." Grid is a clipping of griddle, a diminutive of grill. English borrowed this word from Old French graille "grill, grating", a reduction of Latin craticula "small grate, grill", a diminutive of cratis "wickerwork, grate". Latin possibly inherited this word from PIE kert-/kort- "turn, wind", source also, with metathesis, of Russian krutit' "to wind, twist", Czech krut "torsion", and Serbian kretati "to move". (We don't want to leave the impression of any gridlock at alphaDictionary about showing our gratitude to Albert Skiles for suggesting today's highly topical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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