Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Adam Gets Streetwise

Posted by Neal on April 20, 2005

As we were driving home from school yesterday, we turned onto Ridgeway, the main road into our subdivision. Seeing the street sign, Adam asked, “What’s the last name of Ridgeway?” I knew what he meant, and said, “Drive.” A minute later, as we turned off Ridgeway onto Walton, Adam asked, “What’s the last name of Walton?” I said “Place.”

I’d never referred to the “Road,” “Avenue,” “Street,” etc., part of a street name as its last name. Come to think of it, I’d never referred to it as anything, but Adam’s term made good sense. It just goes to show that (as pointed out in numerous posts in the linguablogosphere in recent months, most funnily by Geoff Pullum) even if a language has no word for some concept, it doesn’t mean that its speakers can’t talk about it. You can add a new sense to an existing term (as Adam did), borrow a word from another language, make up a word, or just take as many words as you need to to express the concept–for example, the “Road,” “Avenue,” “Street,” etc., part of a street name.

But wouldn’t you think postal workers have to refer to this idea enough that they’d have a nice, convenient name for it? Well, they do, I’ve learned after visiting the USPS website. It’s street suffix. It works, I guess. In fact, it has an advantage over last name. It’s easy to combine street with suffix to get the compound noun street suffix, but what do you get when you combine street with last name? Street last name? Awkward. Last street name? Too ambiguous.

2 Responses to “Adam Gets Streetwise”

  1. Anonymous said

    Naturally, it could always be the street’s surname.

  2. Anonymous said

    Not the same thing of course, but this post put me in mind of a comment my 2.5-year-old toddler said the other day. We were rumbling over some railroad tracks, and he looked at them and shouted, “Mommy, that’s a train road!” Makes perfect sense.

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