- Written by webmin
The origins of many automotive terms often seem lost in the shrouds of history. For example, nobody yet knows for sure when and where the term “hot rod” came about, and there has always been speculation about the phrase “drag race.” After all, racers are not literally dragging anything when they line up side-by-side on the quarter-mile. Sure, you’re bound to get plenty of apocryphal explanations and suppositions, but it’s rare that these automotive terms get treated to serious linguistic study.
Gary Martin’s The Phrase Finder recently did just that, however, with an examination of the term “drag race.” Their findings note that “drag,” meaning a highway or other thoroughfare, date back to the 1570s, when roads were created by horse-drawn sledges known as drags. Elizabeth I herself didn’t refer to roads as drags, but referred to road-building equipment as drags. That use of the term then kicked around for the next 300-some years, hopping the Atlantic and becoming essentially a synonym of “street” or “road,” which gave rise to the related term “main drag,” familiar to any small-town resident across America. Thus, when hot rodders lined up for a street race, the term “drag race” was born, with “drag” referring not to what was raced (as with “monster truck racing” or “swamp buggy racing”), rather to where the race was conducted (as with “dry lakes racing” or “circle track racing”).
Or, at least, so says The Phrase Finder. What other explanations have you heard for the origins of “drag race” and of other automotive terms?