James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Dec 10 13:46:41 UTC 2002

In a message dated 12/9/02 10:39:07 PM Eastern Standard Time,
nee1 at MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU writes:

> I have not yet seen mention of tarmac.

MWCD10 page 1206 column 2, says that "Tarmac" is a trademark, then gives a
generic "tarmac" dated as 1919 "a tarmacadam road, apron, or runway".

"tarmacadam" is dated 1882 and "macadam" as 1824.

For some reason "tarmac" always sounds British to me---perhaps I encountered
it reading about bombers taking off from Britain during World War II.
However I just checked with a pilot here and he says "tarmac", meaning "the
area where the planes are parked" is widely used among aviation people in the
US, so it seems I am wrong.

A few words about "macadam" (does that make me a macadam nut?):

In a message dated 12/6/02 9:08:55 PM Eastern Standard Time, AAllan at AOL.COM

> DARE has an extensive entry for "macadam," complete with map: it's chiefly
>  Northeast, MidAtlantic, and North Central (esp. Ohio) for this definition:
>  "originally a road pavement made of layers of packed crushed rock,
>  strengthened by applying a bituminous binder; now usually blacktop or a
>  similar paving material."

This provides a useful example for the current thread, which is "when does
the word change or not change when the referent changes?" slash "why does the
word change when the referent does not change?"

I pointed out that the word (sometimes) changes when there is an obvious
change to the referent (e.g. there is an obvious difference between an icebox
and a refrigerator, namely the presence or absence of the iceman) and
(sometimes) does not change when the change to the referent is not obvious to
the general public (e.g. eyeglasses no longer always made of glass, steam
rollers and steam shovels no longer powered by steam).

If we are talking about words used in general speech (e.g. "glasses", "steam
roller") then I think it safe to say that what counts is whether the general
public realizes that there is a significant change to the referent.  In the
case of iceboxes, yes, the change was obvious.  In the case of glasses and
brooms, it was not.

So we have the word "macadam" and its referent, which manages to split the
difference.  To some members of teh general public, the difference between
macadam and asphalt is obvious.  To others, the difference is not---they
distinguish between unpaved and paved, the latter being either macadam or
asphalt, who cares?.  (I am ignoring the existence of concrete roads as not
relevant to this particular discussion.)

So we have an example of an incomplete changeover in the word due to an
incomplete popular realization of a change to the referent.

It is interesting that DARE finds this to be a regional term: "chiefly
Northeast, MidAtlantic, and North Central (esp. Ohio)"
1) Were the old-style macadam roads (i.e. those made of crushed rock) more
common in the Northeast-MidAtlantic-North Central area than elsewhere
(possible), in which case the dialect preference is explained simply by the
relative ubiquitousness of the referent?
2) Or for some reason was the term "macadam" more widely used in this region
for a type of crushed-rock pavement widely found in the USA?
3) Or was the Northeast-MidAtlantic-North Central area more conservative in
holding onto the term "macadam" after the switchover to asphalt roads?
(Which could be a result of there already being more macadam roads in that
area---in the rest of the country, paved roads were more of a novelty and
hence the terms "blacktop" or "asphalt" were more readily adopted since the
term "macadam" was not widely used due to a lack of referents)

      - Jim Landau (trying to pave the way for the resumption of this thread)

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