Heard on The Judges: "Belgian block"

Doug Harris cats22 at FRONTIERNET.NET
Wed Aug 13 02:33:54 UTC 2008

The term does come up more often than you'd imagine in New York
City, where Belgian Block streets -- not to mention alleyways
and the NYC equivalent of mews -- remain alive and well. Fewer
than a few decades ago, but continuing to exist, nonetheless.
It's also heard, often pronounced by older craftsmen so the first
word sounds something like 'belja', in some of NYC's northern
suburbs and in northern New Jersey -- which is where I first heard
That was in the 60's when a friend and her doctor husband were
having work done in and around their rather ostentatious house.
The old craftsman doing the work insisted 'da belja block' was
the _only_ thing to use on the driveway.
Now I think on it, I believe he spoke with a thick Italian accent,
which no doubt had a lot to do with how his pronunciation sounded
to us.

Wilson Gray
Sent: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 5:28 PM
Subject: Heard on The Judges: "Belgian block"

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.


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

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