As you follow the word car backwards in time, you can also be privy to a history of transportation. Since cars weren't invented until the late nineteenth century, and the word appeared in the fourteenth century, it's obvious that it originally meant "any vehicle with wheels". This stems from the French etymon of carre, which came from a local French dialect, still as carre, where the word goes back to the Latin word carra ("baggage wagon"), a development of a conjugation for the earlier word carrus, which meant "war chariot". In one theory, this goes through Gaulish to the Proto-Celtic word karros, back to meaning "wagon", which traces to the Proto-Indo-European word kers, meaning "to run". While this is a wistfully whimsical theory, another suggests that the Latin word goes to Proto-Germanic karzijana, from PIE gers, both of which meant "turn". Both theories are plausible, and surprisingly neither goes through the Proto-Italic family after its stint in Latin. In any case, car, as many people think, is not a shortening of the word carriage.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd