Maybe It's Time To Retire The Word 'Straphangers'

When was the last time you saw a strap?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the subways in New York have been really bad lately.

Every day on the local public radio station, they say most of the beginning of the alphabet, and then those are the trains that are running with delays, signal problems, or other unspeakable horrors like gushing waterfalls or falling debris.

A favorite way to refer to subway riders is ‘straphangers,’ which is a holdover from a time when the subway cars had actual straps hanging from the ceiling that standing passengers would hold into. Now, as everyone knows, there are pols and bars and sometimes this thing called a “pivoted grab handle” which is NOT a bodily euphemism so please just don’t.

(Apparently fuming is one of the only things straphangers do):

Doesn’t it all sound a little old-timey and well, sort of British, to you? It does to me. Maybe we could use some new and different and ideally better words. Like “standees,” or just “commuters.” I’m sure the poor transportation beat reporters get sick of saying “riders” all the time, but “straphanger” just sounds so clangy and old-fashioned that I think we should retire it. Plus something about the construction seems so wordy. Ding-dongers and blank-blankers. We don’t say car-drivers or bus-sitters or cycle-pedallers.

And how about that tricky “ph” in the middle of the word? I can’t be the only one who misreads it as “strafangers.” Sounds like the plural noun for a gaggle of bird-flipping teens on public transportation.

The MTA refers to “customers” and “passengers,” which seems nice. Based on how things are going lately, I would also accept “victims.” Really all I’m saying is if we’re going to be reading about the subway a lot more it’s just going to get more and more noticeable that this word is in the news a lot, so why not just simplify?

As one of the greatest editors of our time is fond of saying:

Remember the banana rule: it’s never “the elongated yellow fruit.”