Curbside Pick-Up

Who would have thought, back in January, that we’d be doing quite so much of this?

It feels like shopping in Bulgaria in the mid 1970s, lining up for the remaining 40-watt bulb on the shelf.

If you live in the United Kingdom or other parts of the Commonwealth, you would be doing it at the kerbside.

The form curb is usual in North America in describing the raised edge of a sidewalk, walkway or paved area.

Both versions are seen in early eighteenth-century examples (sometimes kirb).

Curb actually makes more sense, given that the word comes from the French courbe and Latin curvus, meaning ‘curved’.

Why the K, then?

The Oxford English Dictionary points to the word kennel by way of comparison, which also comes from a C-word: canis, which is Latin for ‘dog’.

In mediaeval French, a canaille was a pack of dogs and a chenil or kenil the enclosure or structure one put them in. But, spelling being flexible in the Middle Ages, the word also appeared as chienaille or kienaille.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, British English went with kennel and, after a flirtation with curbkerb.

The verb meaning ‘to restrain’ is universally spelt curb.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  1. Unrelated, but I’ve always been curious as to the etymology of the word “firm”, as in: “law firm”. Why do we call them “firms”? Perhaps a topic for a future post?

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