On Britain vs. America we’re going to explore some the differing vocabulary either side of the pond and attempt to reach an impartial decision as to which word is ‘best’.
Let’s get started. What would you call one of these?
sidewalk n paved area for pedestrians; usually beside a street or roadway
pavement n hard smooth surface of a road
pavement n paved area for pedestrians; usually beside a street or roadway
Pavement is also used the British way in Malta, Kenya, Sri Lanka, South Africa. While Indians, Irish, Pakistanis, Kiwis and Aussies all call it a footpath, which in the UK is strictly used to mean a walking path away from a road. [source]
This is all pretty confusing, so let’s look at the history of the words. Pavement has been the longest, first appearing in France in the 15th century, coming directly from the Latin pavimentum meaning a hard floor, or a level surface that is beaten firm. [source] So it’s just a description of the material used to make the walkway by the side of a road. However, by 1933 pavement was solely used in the UK in its current form, although sidewalk also saw some use. [source]
Sidewalk was first used as a word in the 18th century [source], but the etymology is a little harder to come by. It’s simply stated as coming from a combination of side and walk. Which gets to its simplicity in describing its purpose; a place to walk beside the road.
It seems sidewalk is an altogether more straightforward description, as well as being unambiguous and commonly understood. Even if you went as asked a 100 year old Brit. Say ‘pavement’ and you risk confusing it with the other bit of concrete right next to the thing you’re trying to describe!
America: 1 Britain: 0
And if that’s not enough pavement/sidewalk fun for today, here’s a video of a cat who was found trapped underneath a newly laid sidewalk/pavement!