Words difficult to translate: Commute

Today we are introducing one of those words you learn when you live and work in an English-speaking country, mainly because you will likely have to do it if home and work or study are not in the same town.

Commute literally means “travel some distance between home and the place of work or study on a regular basis”. This means that, in order to commute, private or public means of transport, as well as a certain amount of distance (normally beyond the boundaries of your local community), have to be in the equation.

However, this is not the original meaning of commute. This word comes from the Latin term “commutare” which means “transform” or “change completely”. Commuting as “travelling regularly between home and work” was a term coined in 1840s North America, when passengers were charged a reduced (commuted) railway fare when travelling repeatedly from the suburbs into big cities such as New York, Boston or Philadelphia.

As we can imagine, commuting can be considered one of the consequences of modern industrialization, in which the economic growth of big cities attracts businesses and labor but at the same time results in a price increase in housing, making it impossible for many people to live next to their places of work. Thus, people opt to become commuters when searching for job opportunities.

Means of transport generally involved  in this context are trains, automobiles, subway, buses,  bicycles and even planes. Unfortunately commuting is often associated with increased stress levels due to delays, traffic jams and crowded spaces. This gets worse if “trip chaining” is involved, that is, making one or more stops while commuting, for example to drop off the children at school.

Finally, it is necessary to point out the other meanings of commute, more associated to its original connotations. Commute can also be translated as “change a punishment into a less severe one” (e.g. The Judge commuted the life sentence to 10 years’ imprisonment) or “exchange one type of payment or investment for another type” (e.g. When he lost his job, Mark decided to commute his monthly allowance for a lump sum in order to start up a new business).

We hope you found this information useful. In any case, if you have to commute to go to work, we hope it goes smoothly and you can find different ways to entertain yourself and make the most of it: nice music, interesting books and, why not, language courses can make your daily trips more productive and enjoyable!

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