Peddling while pedalling

When you’re cycling in a city you should expect the unexpected – especially if you’re sharing the road with a lorry in a hurry. Luckily no one seems to have been seriously hurt in this incident, but it must have been a shocking experience for everyone there. One of the cyclists has uploaded a couple of photos, and the story was picked up by the Guardian and NY Times websites, among others.

[Edit: this image is just an image, not a video or an external link.]

Stan Carey - peddle, pedal

Stan Carey - peddled, pedalled

The Guardian reported that the Mayor of London and the UK transport minister “peddled” round a corner. They may have been pedalling, but I don’t think they were peddling anything. The two activities do not go well together: presumably even cyclists who peddle from the saddle would not attempt to do so without stopping.

The newspaper’s own style guide has the following entries for these near-homonyms:

pedaller: cyclist
peddler: drug dealer
pedlar: hawker

Peddler can mean more than “drug dealer”: one can peddle goods of all kinds, though the word sometimes carries connotations of dubious or illicit activity. But the guide is deliberately very concise; I am not disputing its entries, I am reproving the website editing. Whether the mistake was the writer’s or an editor’s, it was a careless one – though not as careless (or dangerous) as the lorry driver’s.


3 Responses to Peddling while pedalling

  1. Fran says:

    I’m trying to think in what context anyone would use the word ‘pedallar’. It just doesn’t seem to sound right. ‘He was a fast pedallar’? Would we say, ‘he pedalled fast’ or even ‘he cycled fast’? Oh well. Musing over.

  2. Claudia says:

    Peddling politics is always a dubious activity. Maybe The Guardian used the word with irony in connection with the Mayor of London and the UK transport minister. What else would they be doing together? It could be why they failed to see the lorry. BTW, wasn’t the Mayor an adept pedaller at one point?

  3. Stan says:

    Fran: pedaller (spelt -er) seems to appear almost invariably as a synonym for cyclist, and I would guess that it’s used mainly by cyclists themselves or by journalists who appreciate its alliterative potential. There is a series of New Zealand cycling tour books called “Pedallers’ Paradise“. In passing, I would add that I sometimes use “pedal” as a verb – and not as an inelegant variation of “cycle”. It all depends on the gear one is in!

    Claudia: I hadn’t considered the possibility that the word was used with subtle irony. Given the Grauniad‘s [sic] reputation for typographical inaccuracy, I doubt the misspelling was deliberate, but it’s an interesting theory. Yes, Johnson is a cycling enthusiast, but cycling and politics make awkward bedfellows, and the Mayor’s ambitious plans are likely to be variously compromised along the way.

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