Kick It To The Kerb, Not The Curb

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Kick It To The Kerb, Not The Curb


In Australian (and UK) English, the edge of the road is referred to as the ‘kerb’. In US English, it is known as the ‘curb’. We can accept these differences; they happen often. But in an Australian context, that means the correct expression is ‘kick it to the kerb’.

Kerb picture from Shutterstock

‘Curb’ exists in Australian English, principally as a verb meaning ‘to restrain’. It is also a noun referring to the restraint strap used on a horse’s mouth. US English uses the same spelling for both noun and verb forms (think Curb Your Enthusiasm).

I’m not going to mount a big argument about which approach is “better”; language is full of arbitrary rules. Writing well means learning those rules. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.

Comments

  • I thought Aussies used the term “gutter” to refer to the edge of the road rather than “kerb”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen/heard anyone use “kerb”.

  • I simply cannot recall if I have seen it written down but a quick Google has shown ‘kerb’ used in traffic documents in SA, Vic and NSW. I lived in NSW until I was 20 when I moved to WA, I may not have noticed in my younger years but I certainly haven’t seen it recently. As I did not do my drivers test in WA I am not sure what they refer to but the sign I see a lot is “No Parking on Road or Verge”. I know verge refers to the area past the kerb but because most gutters in WA are the sloped, 45 degree type- cars in residential usually park half on and half off the street, hence teh warning for parking on the verge but no reference to kerb.

    Anyone else from WA able to confirm if kerb shows up in traffic info or signs, I’ll hope off the internet so there is room for someone else online 😉

    • I’m from WA, but I’d have to say I can’t remember seeing the word “Kerb” used in any road signs. That said, I haven’t seen “Curb” either. When it comes to the concrete type you find on the road and in car parks, I’m positive that it’s “Kerb”, as I deal with kerb repairs a lot for work.

  • Etymologically “Curb” is closer to the original French “courbe” which is from Latin “Curvus”
    It is anything that “holds back” (curb your dog). The curb holds back the water from the road.
    Interestingly curb was the first English spelling, it seems to have changed to kerb around 1600, possibly to differentiate it from the other uses.

    • In “Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson he says that a lot of English words in usage in America had fallen out of use in England as the language (especially spelling) continued to evolve. I also recall that set spellings were not necessarily followed, particularly for obscure words and multiple spellings survive from letters written at the time. The US constitution had two different spellings of Pennsylvania, it was originally spelt with one N though at the time it was being spelt with two more and more hence both types were included, also ‘choose’ was spelled in one case as ‘chuse’, it was seen as an alternate spelling, not an error.

      When North America was settled they continued to use English that was in a changing state (from Middle English) in England, the UK version kept moving on and the American usage either kept the spelling as it was previously used or it evolved independently of the direction across the Atlantic.

      • Just a nitpick: Middle English was out of use for 200 years before the first European settlement of North America. The language transition at the time would have been from Early Modern English to Modern English, rather than from Middle English to Early Modern English – the latter happened around 1400.

        • Fair enough. It is interesting that a single language can have so many different and distinguishable types, going far beyond regional dialects and accents. I imagine speaking to someone from the early era would be a very trying experience.

          • You probably wouldn’t understand them, and you would certainly have a hard time reading anything they wrote =)

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