Heard on The Judges: "Belgian block"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 12 21:27:59 UTC 2008

Middle-aged, white, female speaker:

"He could have parked his truck on the paving-stones, which are
_Belgian blocks_, and not caused any damage.

Back in the 'Forties, an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
pointed out that the paving-stones on some local streets and sidewalks
were actually _Belgian blocks_, despite the fact that some people
referred to them as "cobblestones" and 'bricks."

I've never again come across this term until today. Google yields a
relatively-mere 27,200 raw hits. From the hits that I examined, many
people in many cities are or were under the impression that Belgian
blocks are cobblestones. There is general agreement that Belgian
blocks are made of granite. Beyond that, the exact definition of
"Belgian blocks" and the method by which they are laid as
paving-stones is extremely variable.

In Saint Louis, they're made of Missouri red granite and are cut so as
to be uniformly oblong in shape, as seen in actual use, possibly to
allow them to be laid without mortar. Unfortunately, the last time
that I was in Saint Louis, ca. 2002, it seemed to be the case that all
Belgian-block streets, even mere alleys, had been asphalted to
"modernize" them, even in neighborhoods that were bereft of residents.
(The population of the central city has dropped by 500,000 or so,
since my day. Also gone were about a million sycamore, elm, and maple
trees, killed by some blight, whose shade was about the only thing
that made Saint Louis livable during 115-degree summer days. No wonder
people had to get out! ) Belgian blocks cause a lot of noise when
driven over, compared to asphalt or concrete. OTOH, Belgian-block
streets don't get potholes.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
 -Sam'l Clemens

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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