July 15, 2019

M. J. Maddox, PhD
is the American English Doctor.


A Stroll is a Walk

IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT: Jubilant Saudi woman parks after taking her family for a drive. —photo from The Washington Post.

Stroll is one of those words most native English speakers use from time to time. Sometimes we use it as a noun to mean “a leisurely walk.” Sometimes we use it as a verb to mean, “to walk in a leisurely way.” The verb came first.

Stroll as a verb comes from a Swiss German dialect word, strolchen. That verb came from a noun meaning vagabond or vagrant. Because of the life style associated with vagabonds and vagrants, the verb strolchen meant “to stroll about, to loaf.”

One of the first times I ever heard stroll was in the Barbershop Quartet standard  that begins,


Strolling in the park one day,
in the merry merry month of May,
I was taken by surprise
By a pair of roguish eyes…

Commenting on a poem by John Keats, a writer at a website called shmoop gives a little background:

Keats wrote “To Autumn” on September 19, 1819, at the height of his skill. He had just returned from a stroll near the town of Winchester in Hampshire, England.

Because the meaning of stroll is so well established in English, the caption under a photo in the Washington Post the other day caused me to do a double-take. The photo shows an elated Saudi woman behind the wheel of a car. A smiling man sits in the passenger seat.

After midnight, on June 24, the day the ban on women driving in Saudi is lifted, Ahd Niazy’s mother, Dania Alagili, 47, parks the car after taking her family for a stroll for the first time in the streets of Jeddah.

I’m assuming that although the photo was taken in Saudi Arabia, the caption for the Post was written by a native English-speaker. (I could be wrong.) The use of the word stroll to describe what was clearly a ride in the car is the sort of error an ESL speaker might make.

The Saudi woman is not parking her car after “a stroll.” She is returning from “a drive.” To convey the pleasant connotation of stroll, one could say “a leisurely drive.” A less formal choice, one that suggests a drive taken solely for pleasure, might be spin:

Ahd Niazy’s mother, Dania Alagili, 47, parks the car after taking her family for a spin for the first time in the streets of Jeddah.


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