Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Whaddya Call That Thing?

My mind has finally reached critical mass regarding the number of names I can remember for this thing. I'm so overwhelmed with choices that if I have occasion to actually call it something, I sputter and stutter with the word-finding and mix the words up. "Go get a trart . . . uh . . . basgon."

When I was growing up as a fourth-generation Californian, the local term for it was "shopping cart" or even "basket." All of my family called it these two terms (perhaps encountering the multiplicity of terms at such an early age set the stage for my eternal confusion), and for many years I felt confident that that was what it was. It was either a cart or a basket. Then I started moving around the country and even overseas, and got all discombobulated.

When I had to start shopping for my own groceries, I learned there was another kind of basket, too, the small, hand-held kind rather than the big wire kind with wheels and a kiddie seat. So I was struck with the conundrum of what I needed on any given shopping trip: a basket, or a basket? That was when I commited myself to calling the wheeled thing a cart and the hand-held thing a basket, lest I myself become a basket case.

When I moved to Bristol, UK, and visited the Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda supermarket chains, my terminology was soundly corrected. The item immediately became a "trolley," and the term "shopping cart" was expunged. I had already forgotten "basket" except for the hand-held kind. My son, G, was about to turn four and insisted on rushing to get a trolley and "driving" it. Actually, it was riding. But since he was not very tall, he could not see where he was going. One time we went to Tesco and he grabbed a trolley and literally ran off with it. Impetuous and hyper, he pushed off with the back foot, got a good speed going, and because the trolley was still empty, his weight overwhelmed its back end and it tipped right back. He fell directly onto the floor, flat on his back, with the trolley handle still in his hands and the upended trolley pinning him. Some hours later he realized he'd injured his back, and even ten years later he still occasionally complains about back pain. He attributes this to the time the trolley fell on him. When we returned to the States I had a hard time getting rid of "trolley," and still use it often. If I take G to the grocery store here in the States, the two of us always refer to the thing as a trolley; it seems we have a traumatic tie to the word and it arrives on the tips of our tongues naturally, as an understood fact, with no hesitation.

When our family goes to visit the grandparents in Upstate New York, we do a lot of grocery shopping at our favorite chain, Wegmans (oh, how I wish we had Wegmans here in CT! I miss you, Wegmans!). As we approach the entrance, Grandma reminds us to "get a 'wagon'." This one always throws me for a loop. And I overhear other shoppers murmuring about wagons. To me, the word "wagon" calls up images of hardy pioneers crossing the prairie. Somehow it just doesn't work for me. I think of the exclamation, "Circle the wagons!" and that seems silly in a grocery store context.

Now that I'm in CT, the term has changed yet again. In my town, people refer to the wheeled thing as a "carriage." Sometimes there's a "carriage" return in the parking lot (LOL, I'm a throwback to the typewriter age; I can get away with saying this!) Unfortunately for my confusion, sometimes there's a "shopping cart" return. And at our local chain, Stop & Shop (a chain which I truly deplore relative to Wegmans), there's no place to return the vehicles at all, no matter what you prefer to call them.

I think it's interesting that the web has universalized the name for this thing. If you're shopping online, have you ever encountered a "shopping trolley," a "wagon," or a "carriage"? I'll bet not. But the local terms for the physical object, as opposed to the virtual thing, remain entrenched in their respective cultures.

Perhaps what I should do is take my kids' actual wagon to the grocery store, and then I would finally, consistenly, know what I was wheeling around.



At 1/11/2007 3:10 PM, Anonymous CGHill said...

Here in Oklahoma City, where the device was invented, we call it a "shopping cart," for what that's worth.

At 1/11/2007 11:33 PM, Blogger sputnik said...

Thanks so much! Loved reading the articles about the anniversary of the cart. I had no idea; it was a complete coincidence that I thought about my worry about the name. No wonder my family PROPERLY called it a cart. Before they moved to California, they were from Oolagah, Indian Territory. When they wanted to be "big," they said they were from Collinsville, (ooh! ahh! the big city! Don't you laugh, I've been there.) I believe some sort of a fair, itty-bitty or not, was held in Collinsville in 1906, the year OK attained statehood. So it must have been somewhere late in my genes and my ancestors that made me feel upset over the wrong term for that thing!

At 1/16/2007 10:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Blackeyed peas for New Year's. In our house, it was always sauerkraut. "Always have sauerkraut in the house at New Year's or it's bad luck." One year, our German shepherd put his front paws on a chair and ate the whole bowlful.
2. Bet your parents are laughing now. "There's no revenge like seeing your kids with their own teenagers."
3. Love those crazy hats. They look like some of the old swimming caps from the fifties. Good for your son. Swimming is SO much better in every way. Best bodies and fewest injuries. And the girls LOVE them, too. Beautiful boy, by the way. Looks like a really nice kid. And I think long hair, and jewelry, are sexy on guys, depending on what, and how. And it had better be clean, too.
4. I'm a Californian, born and reared, and it has always been "shopping cart" or "grocery cart" and "hand basket." Since Harry Potter, "trolley" is certainly understood by most by now.
5. Ah, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." Ding!
Obviously, I just discovered your blog and got tired of filling out the form. Mercury


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