Linguistic note

I know that it’s “on” Wall Street and “in” The City. But I’m not sure if it’s just usage or some point of underlying language or grammar.

Anyone know?

Please note, I have never studied grammar in any language, so, no, I really don’t know. That I write for a living is amusing with regard to that, yes, I learnt to put one word after another just by reading other people who had done that.

41 thoughts on “Linguistic note”

  1. Wall Street is an actual street, whereas the City is an actual geographic area (although both are the names given to each country’s financial district).

    We refer to “on Threadneedle Street” if making reference to the Bank of England.

  2. It seems to me logical that one should be ‘on’ a street – a paved road – but ‘in’ a city – a densely population area.

    However, these things don’t have to be logical. As a matter of grammatical rule, the French are ‘in’ (grammatically) feminine countries – en France – but ‘at’ masculine countries – au Canada. Except for masculine countries which start with a vowel, then they treat them like women.

  3. Prepositions are always funny in any language. Learning when and when not to use de, à, de la or du, pour, etc. in French isn’t that easy. In Russian, for some bizarre reason you can only be *on* a square (such as Red Square) no *in* a square; you can only be *on* a factory, not *in* a factory; and you can only be *on* Ukraine as well.

  4. The fun one with is with languages like German which differentiate between “on the table” (auf dem Tisch) and “on the wall (an der Mauer) with two different words for “on” depending on whether the thing is horizontal or vertical.

    So in German the BoE is “an der Threadneedlestrasse”. Since the buildings are not on the (horizontal) plane of the street itself, rather they are at its edges (i.e. defining a plane perpendicular to the plane of the street), hence “an” not “auf”.

    Alles Klar? Test tomorrow…

  5. “We refer to “on Threadneedle Street” if making reference to the Bank of England.”
    Every Londoner I know says the Bank of England is IN Threadneedle Street. However, the 100 Club’s ON Oxford Street whilst the Astoria’s on THE Tottenham Court Road.
    Coz we’re Lundunners ain’t we?

  6. bis

    “whilst the Astoria’s on THE Tottenham Court Road”

    Alas no more. A place of regular pilgrimage for me, done in by Crossrail.

  7. In Hungarian you “live on, go onto and get off or disembark from” Budapest and Hungary.

    But you “live in, go into and come out of or leave from” other cities and countries.

  8. IMNSHO grammar is often theorists trying to catch up with usage and pin ‘rules’ to it. But I think even they give up when it comes to prepositions.

  9. Prepositions are purely idiomatic in use, abacab’s already covered the German ones, which you just have to learn.

    Two things consistently floor non-native English writers, articles and prepositions. The really good ones can learn the latter and use them properly almost all of the time. IMX no foreign native ever gets articles 100% right (and I’m no longer sure I do).

  10. Every Londoner I know says the Bank of England is IN Threadneedle Street

    I wasn’t sure about that – everyone knows where the BoE is anyway. So I googled it. Curiously, restaurants and food shops all describe themselves as being “on Threadneedle Street” whereas bank branches all describe themselves as “in Threadneedle Street”.

  11. Can one be simultaneously
    up the pole
    round the bend
    off the rails
    beside oneself
    and
    in cloud cuckoo land?

    For help with this, please visit TRUK

  12. And changing.

    30 years ago “on the team” was American only, but it’s replacing “in the team” in the UK.

  13. On/in pretty clear, as previous commenters have pointed out. The one that throws me, still, is islands. I want to write “on the Isle of Wight” but the stylebook at work says “in”, which fits in with the city/street rule. Except when islands are small, in which case it would be “on Rockall”, “on San Giorgio Maggiore”, “on Eel Pie Island”. Like Tim, I have no idea of the grammatical rules, but you can get an ear for it.

    Tangentially, anyone got the final word on “fill in a form” versus “fill out a form”? The latter seems to me to be a specious Americanism. One would never fill out a crossword.

  14. Dongguan John – you go up to Oxford and Cambridge and also up to London except from Oxford and Cambridge whence you go down to anywhere including London.

    Trains have “up” and “down” lines too but is there a connection? I’ve no idea.

  15. The Great Redacto: for the Isle of Wight, it depends on whether you’re talking physical geography or political. Do you mean on the grass, or in the country?

    Anyway, they’re both wrong. It’s “the Island” – only overners use “Isle of Wight” 🙂

  16. The consensus is surely right on this : there is no underlying logic to the use of prepositions.I once had to teach English as a Second Language (there is some distinction between this and English as a Foreign Language which ,thankfully I’ve forgotten) and the bus stop nearly caused a coming to blows. One student, who was immensely self assured , insisted he stood on the bus stop; another, who appeared to hate him claimed she stood near the bus stop and so it went on. Grammar rules, as such, did not apply to this aspect of the subject (or perhaps that should be “did not apply with that aspect of the subject”).

  17. @ Pellinor

    Ah yes, overners…I’m one of those, right enough, and a grockle, since I was there in the summer. You’ll be a caulkhead, I’m thinking.

  18. I think the rule is ‘in’ an enclosed space; ‘on’ a surface.

    Thus in Britain but on an island.

    In a city, but on a street.

    Confusingly people say ‘on’ a bus, but that really means the roof; being ‘in’ a street would mean buried.

  19. “Tangentially, anyone got the final word on “fill in a form” versus “fill out a form”?”

    You’re forgetting “fill up”, which some use (Indian and Caribbean English for example, I think.)

    An American fills out a form, before turning it in. We fill it in, then hand it in.

  20. *at* a bus stop.
    “on” would be six foot above the pavement.
    “near” if one is in a queue but the driver might not stop if the only person there stood *near* instead of at the stop – it is generally a sign that one is waiting for a different bus.

  21. Also shows up the problem with all the new gender groups demanding changes to personal pronouns so they aren’t gender specific, BBC website did an article on it recently and they had to include bracketed comments to make sense of some of the sentences (use of they/their instead of he/she/etc being awkward). Makes me wonder how these people cope with languages like French where ‘gender’ is baked in much more deeply. That said I’d love to see the gender warriors take on the French language controllers.

  22. American English is funny about pronouns. Often it would be much clearer if only a few more pronouns were used. But in other cases there’s a superfluity e.g. based out of, made money off of, moored up.

    I don’t know why they “double down” when we “double up”: maybe it’s to do with our generally sunnier disposition, or our more logical approach to life. But then I don’t know why they write comparisons backward. Where we’d say that the price of lollipops has risen from a penny to a pound, they say that the price has risen to a dollar from a cent. Or at least that’s what their journalists would write.

  23. While we’re at it, can anyone explain why London roads can (and do) take the definite article (the Euston Road, the Tottenham Court Road etc etc), but streets can’t and never do.

  24. I’m guessing “double down” comes from poker or something similar, i.e. doubling the stake that’s been put down. Double up is probably not etymologically connected to double down.

  25. “While we’re at it, can anyone explain why London roads can (and do) take the definite article (the Euston Road, the Tottenham Court Road etc etc), but streets can’t and never do.”

    I think you’ll find, most of the road’s taking the definite article were roads long before the city existed. They were the roads connecting the original villages & to other parts of the country.. Possibly why there are no roads in the City. None of them, by definition, leading anywhere else.

  26. I don’t know why they “double down” when we “double up”: maybe it’s to do with our generally sunnier disposition, or our more logical approach to life.

    What meanings do you understand them to have? I understand the American English “double down” (from Blackjack) is to be in a risky situation and make it more risky. Quite different from “double up”.

  27. Draw an enclosed space, something topologically equivalent to a circle and the boundaries of a geographical entity. Points within it are with*in* it.
    Draw a line, something topologically equivalent to a street. Points on it are *on* it.

  28. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I’m not even a Caulkhead, and I was born on the Island. You need to be multi-generational IOW stock before you’re a real Caulkhead, and both my parents were Overners. Incidentally, I was born in Newport*, which is on the IOW.

    * as were most of the Island-born populace, as that’s where the maternity hospital is.

  29. dearieme:
    “maybe it’s to do with our generally sunnier disposition, or our more logical approach to life”

    This sort of thing is the key difference between Americans and British, and the difference will remain long after our languages merge.

    An American would read it as:
    “”maybe it’s to do with our generally sunnier disposition, or our more logical approach to life””, look slightly puzzled and dig deep in the courtesy reserves.

    They would have no clue that it’s self-mockery.

  30. Train lines are up and down because of the way line diagrams are laid out; every rail line is shown vertically, and the zero point of the line is at the top of the diagram, so the “up” direction is up the page and the “down” direction is down the page.

    For most UK rail systems, the zero point is the buffer-stop at the London terminus station – Paddington, Waterloo, Euston, etc. These were set when the Victorians built the lines and laid out the mileposts; because rebasing would require remeasuring every point on the line, the zero is actually where the buffer-stops were in about 1900 (Paddington’s buffer stops are at a negative distance because the platforms were lengthened in the 1970s).

    The big exception is the old Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway lines, where the zero-point is Manchester Victoria station, so the lines count out in both directions, East and West.

    So from most places in Britain, “up” is towards London, but on many lines in Lancashire and Yorkshire, it’s towards Manchester instead.

  31. Roads go to places, Streets are at/in a place(city, town, village etc)
    I recently came across some obscure reasoning employed by Highway Authorities in relation to speed limits and visibility splays: it appears the rules change if a road is considered a street.

    ‘On Threadneedle Str.’ sounds American to me.

  32. I’m sure there must have been a fashion element in naming, when it comes to roads/streets. The Late Victorian/Edwardian railcentric developments along the Liverpool Street line are generally roads with few streets. Those there are, are more from the previous Georgian/early Vic era developments. I can think of a number of “Roads” that were the original village to village thoroughfares but most are grid terracing. However some of the “Streets” are the legacy village/village roads, renamed.earlier.
    And always fascinating to see the naming. I grew up amidst C18th &C19th battlefields.

  33. And always fascinating to see the naming. I grew up amidst C18th &C19th battlefields.
    In London you can tell which great estate built them by the names (of the country estates and minor titles).
    The mid-C20 favoured ‘avenues’.
    Estates of modern Barratt hutches and Wimpey hovels seem to favour rural evocations and ‘closes’

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