We take them for granted so often but what, really, are dashboards? The board part sort makes sense, but why dash? The word traces to well before the automobile era began, in the 1840s, when it referred to a wooden barrier in front of horse-drawn carriages. It was meant to prevent the driver from being hit by mud being sprayed, or dashed up, by the horses' hooves. When cars were invented, this feature was retained at a different angle to protect passengers from the oil and heat of the invention. Eventually, people also realized it was convenient to put controls on automobile dashboards, so they did that, giving us the modern definition of the word. The origin of the verb dash is unknown but thought to be Scandinavian, and the word board comes from Proto-Germanic burdan and PIE berd, "to cut". I think it's pretty cool that a lot of people informally shorten dashboard to dash without realizing what that originally referred to.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.