bollards, bolsters, who cares?

James C Stalker stalker at MSU.EDU
Fri May 11 03:21:51 UTC 2007

Check  Bolster: 1 : to support with or as if with a bolster :
REINFORCE. Not an unlikely reach for someone who might have heard bollard,
not a common term, but could not remember it.  Bollard in is
"chiefly British" and refers to poles, not concrete barriers. It seems to
also be a nautical term.

A search for "traffic bollard" on google gives 47 companies that make
bollards, defined as: Bollards are structures used to protect buildings from
vehicular impact, restrict access or serve as landscape enhancement

Are those concrete things on the interstates in construction zones bollards?
How about those low concrete things in parking lots?


Arnold M. Zwicky writes:

> On May 8, 2007, at 8:54 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>> FWIW, "traffic bollards" sounds all right to me.
> i guess i wasn't direct enough.  what i meant to say was:
> |as far as i know, "traffic bollards" is an entirely standard and
> ordinary way to refer to these objects.  (no doubt many people have
> no name at all for them, and there might be alternatives i don't know
> about, but there's nothing notable about "traffic bollards".)|
> so, yes, i'd expect the expression to sound fine to wilson (so long
> as he's familiar with the word "bollard"), and to any other english
> speaker (so long as they're familiar with the word "bollard")
>> "Traffic bolsters"
>> sounds laughable. Perhaps it's mere slip of the keyboard.
> what i meant to say was:
> |"traffic bolsters" is an error, period -- a judgment, um, bolstered
> by the fact that the occurrence i cited seems to be the *only* one
> pulled up on a google net search, and contrasts with the 22k hits for
> "traffic bollards".|
> it's extremely unlikely to be a typo, though; "bollard" > "bolster"
> is a *big* keyboard (or spelling) stretch.  "bolster" is surely some
> kind of malapropism -- either a classical malapropism (the writer had
> stored "bolster" instead of "bollard" in their mental lexicon, for
> whatever reason) or a retrieval error of the fay/cutler type (the
> writer was trying to pull up the word for these objects and got
> "bolster" instead of the phonologically similar "bollard").
> arnold
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

James C. Stalker
Department of English
Michigan State University

The American Dialect Society -

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