Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Dashboard - A Muddy Etymology

Photo by Jimmy B


Noun. Mid-19th century.
[from DASH verb + BOARD noun.]

1(a) A board of wood or leather in the front of a carriage to keep out mud. M19

1(b) A panel beneath the wind-screen of a motor vehicle, in an aircraft, etc., containing instruments and controls. E20

2 ARCHITECTURE. A sloping board to carry off rainwater from the face of a wall. L19

As a child, I always assumed that a dashboard was so called because it houses the speedometer. But no, a dashboard has nothing to do with dashing of the celeritous variety (and regardless of how dashing you think you look when you're driving, it has nothing to do with that either). Rather, the word dashboard is simply a relic from the days of the horse and carriage, when a dashboard was a wooden or leather board in front of the driver to prevent him from being dashed with mud. So there you go. Now who said cars are boring?
A hand-drawn horse-drawn carriage
Photo from Wikimedia

Do please dash off your most revolutionary comments into the box below.


  1. According to my Collins Dictionary the verb "to dash" means to move quickly. Your childhood belief was therefore quite sensible because, in a car, it houses the speedometer which indicates how quickly you are moving. Also the rev. counter which shows how fast the engine is revolving, and of course the fuel gauge which indicates how quickly you must find a garage to fill up.

    The use of the board on a horse drawn carriage, as the above hand-drawn, horse drawn and photo drawn picture shows, is less clear. It might shield you from wind blown horse exhaust, but I suspect you would be showered in mud from the mudguardless wheels.

    1. My thought was quite logical, wasn't it! However, 'to dash' also means 'to strike forcefully against something', and this was actually its original meaning in Middle English. It's from this sense of 'dash' that dashboard developed.

    2. Interestingly, dashboard in German is Armaturenbrett = instrument panel

    3. Those Germans, eh? They're just so clinical.

  2. Mmm very interesting! I thought you would have also mentioned the blogger dashboard. ;)

  3. "Interestingly, dashboard in German is Armaturenbrett = instrument panel"

    Not quite. Armaturenbrett is the correct German term, but it means "actuator board". Armaturen are any sort of switch, lever or valve, and Brett is board.

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