Professor Parker Archives

PARK, the term as we use it at ParkingQuest, began as a noun (a place called a park) and then became a verb (a so-called verbal substantive, or vbl.sb.), just as "house" is a noun but you can "house the homeless." In England and Canada one speaks not of parking lots but of car parks.

We can know furthermore, that the term evolved into its current use DURING the compilation of the great 17,000 page Oxford English Dictionary based on Historical Principles, as the following selection of entries from the OED under the word, park, illustrates.

(Note that the OED, "based on historical principles," appends to the definition quotations that illustrate the use of the word as it defined in the definition or gloss. The date of the quote is in bold, with author, title, and page of the work quoted, followed by the quote itself. It calls nouns "substantives" (sb.)).


park, according to the main body of the OED is given, among others, the following definition (s.v. sb.5):

Military: The space occupied by the artillery, wagons, beasts,store, or the like, in an encampment. 1686 Sir J.Turner Pallas Armata III.xxx.294: "As to these Oblong Quadrangles, wherein are encamped several bodies, .. you may if you please, call them as the French do, Parks, and that properly enough." 1704 J. Harris Lex. Techn.: "Park of the Artillery is a certain place in a Camp without Cannon-shot of the Place beseiged, where the Cannon, Artificial Fires, Powder, and other Warlike Ammunition are kept."

In the Supplement to the OED, which comprises usages discovered and compiled after the systematic letter-by-letter compilation but before Z was first completed, is added, under the word "park,"

(sb.5b) An open space in or near a city, town, etc., where motor (and other) vehicles can be left. 1925 Times 14 Apr. 8/5: "The Automobile Association ... has put forward a scheme for the construction of motor parks below ground." and

(v.2b) To place or leave (a vehicle) in park (sense *5b) or other place. 1911 NY Evening Post 29 Nov. 16: "The train was parked near the Union Station and was visited by hundreds of townsfolk and countrymen." and

(sb.5c) transf. To leave or keep (other things and persons) in a suitable place until required. 1908 St.George's Rev. July 282: "The children being parked in their own schoolyards. 1922 Atlantic Monthly June 773: "High-school girls ... 'park' their corsets when they go to the dances." and

(s.v. parking, vbl.sb.3) The placing of motor vehicles in a park (sense *5b) 1927 Rep. Commissioner Police Metropolis 1926 19: "The supply of parking places ... can never meet the demand."


Several things are noteworthy here:

1) The word was not used as we use it by the time the compilers had reached P in their first go-through. Thus the new meanings appear only in the Supplement. More exactly, the term came into its current use between the compilation of the P's and Z's. ParkingQuest wonders if things might have been different had the compilers minded their P's and Q's a little better during this period.

2) Use of the term "park" as a place in which things are arranged neatly rather than just being a wide open space, is French (1686 Pallas Armata). This is not a surprise.

3) Commuter parking, where you stash your car out of the range of fire (that is, in some surface lot outside the office building that you work in), seems to go back to the "Park of the Artillery" idea (1704 Lexicon Technologicum).

4) Metropolitan authorities have known, from as early as 1927 (Report of the Commissioner of Police), that parking demand would always outstrip parking supply.

5) Children were parked (1908, St George's Review) before cars were; and corsets were parked before dances (1922, Atlantic Monthly).