short haul, long haul

I happened to come across the phrase short haul today, and it sounded odd to me. It wasn’t odd, really. The article was California’s Bullet Train Goes Off the Rails, by David Dayen, and Mr. Dayen was mentioning the difference between long-haul and short-haul travel. That’s exactly the sort of place you would expect to find the term.

You wouldn’t expect to find short haul used metaphorically, or in describing anything, really, other than trucking and transport. But long haul is used metaphorically very frequently, probably more frequently outside the discussion of transport than in it. And that means that people like me, who don’t discuss transport or trucking all that often, use long haul much more than short haul. That was my feeling, at any rate, so I looked it up on the ngram:

It looks as if up through the mid-thirties, short haul shows up more frequently than long haul, but long haul had more staying power… by 1950, long haul was gaining in frequency and short haul losing, and now the long haul is probably twenty times as frequent as the short. The difference is even more dramatic with the definite article:

I suppose there are other pairs of opposites of the short haul/long haul type, where one becomes a common figure of speech and the other doesn’t, but I can’t think of any, at least not quickly.


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