RIDE-CT: Ever Heard The Term “Autoist” Used Before? It Was Certainly New To Me

HARWINTON, CT – Words and phrases in language tend to come and go. “Frunk,” meaning a trunk in the front of a vehicle, seems to have some traction currently.

The word “trunk” used in connection with vehicles presumably had its beginning with the literal attachment of a steamer trunk to the back of a vehicle for the transport of clothing and other possessions on long-distance trips.

The practice of lashing on a trunk didn’t last long as the feature was eventually incorporated into vehicles, displacing another popular feature.

Trunk on a 1929 Ford Model A / RIDE-CT archives photo

Some words and phrases have fallen out of use. Most cars, trucks and SUVs have automatic transmissions. The remaining few with manual transmissions employ stick shifts. The term “three on the tree” – meaning a three-speed shifter on the steering column – has fallen into disuse, except when referring to classic models.

That other popular feature was the rumble seat. They have likewise disappeared, much like the original trunks, as have running boards.

A rumble seat and running board on a 1935 Ford / RIDE-CT archives photo
A running board on a 1929 Dodge Brothers / RIDE-CT archives photo

What got me thinking about obsolete features recently was a recent “Waterbury History Page” post on Facebook. It showed a framed front page of a “Waterbury Republican” newspaper in Connecticut from January 18, 1930. It displayed a story of a fatal car accident involving a hit-and-run “autoist,” a term I’d never heard used before?

Was “autoist” the precursor of “motorist?” When did “autoist” first appear? When did it fall out of favor and why? It sounds a bit odd now, doesn’t it?

Front page of the “Waterbury Republican” from January 18, 1930
“Autoist” used in headline

Not all long-ago words and phrases sound out of place today, such as “side vents.” They may no longer exist, but their self-explanatory nature make them sound accessible today.

Can you recall any other terms associated with motoring that no longer get used? I suspect “motoring” itself is one of them.

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About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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