It’s funny how the idea for the weekly vocabulary word comes to me. In this case, a conversation on my neighborhood’s chat channel focused on the bollards at the entrances to our greenway. Someone chimed in that they appreciated the new vocabulary word. So here you go (and if you know the word, do you know how it came to be?).

A bollard is a post designed to exclude traffic. Normally, they are grouped together to form a barrier for vehicles, but pedestrians can easily pass. Sadly, they have become quite common to prevent vehicular traffic from striking pedestrians or entering buildings, either by accident or intention.

They sometimes are functional in appearance, but many commercial buildings have made them decorative, so you barely notice their existence.

Bollards protecting a pedestrian area

For those of you who enjoy boating, you may recognize the same word is used to describe the post on a pier or wharf for mooring ropes. While that may seem to be a quite different meaning, the etymology shows the similarity.

The Middle Dutch Bolle traces back to the Old Norse Bolr, both of which mean tree trunk. A tree can be quite effective as either a barrier to vehicular traffic or as an object to secure a boat.

The suffix -ard is an amplifier, so anything it’s attached to turns the word into a stronger version. Bollard, therefore, means a hard or very hard tree trunk. Not just any tree, but a thick, powerful object.

You can probably think of many -ard words and see how it amplifies its meaning, but the most fun one to me is coward. No, it does not mean “very cow.” Cow traces back to coe and the Latin coda meaning “tail.” So coward means you see the tail and only the tail, because they are turning tail and running away.

So the next time you see posts preventing traffic from entering an area, you can correctly name them as bollards and explain why.


  1. Juno's mom on October 31, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    The origin of words is always interesting.

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