01 August 2008

The Leaving Time

Following a chance meeting with Nigel, handing round a French loaf, on (in? I remember Karoline being highly amused by the notion that we English travelled not inside the carriages but perhaps clinging to the roof - German, and probably most other languages, uses "in", although I guess there are places where "on" is absolutely right) the train, I found myself consulting the OED to find out why we came to be called "commuters" and what it had to do with commuting a sentence - because the experience of travelling by train every day is the antithesis of a commuted sentence ...

Commute, from the Latin commutare to change altogether, to exchange (com + mutare). Transitive verb meaning (1) to change for or into or to exchange (1633), to interchange (1667); (2) to change an obligation etc into something lighter or more agreeable (taking the preposition for, into, occasionally with) (1633); (3) to change a punishment or a sentence into a lighter one, or a a fine (1642); (4) to change one kind of payment into or for another (1795) or (in the US) to purchase and use a commutation-ticket (which is defined as a ticket issued by a railway company etc entitling the holder to travel, etc, during its currency at a reduced rate; a season-ticket); and finally intransitive verb meaning to make up or compound for, to serve as a substitute for (1645).
I suppose I interchange at Paddington, and even at Didcot where I leave my bike and take the train (or vice versa), and I have been exchanging south Oxfordshire for Westminster every working day though I don't think it is necessarily lighter or more agreeable - perhaps that is the journey home. Or perhaps it means that what lies at the end of the journey is lighter or more agreeable than the journey itself. Of course, nothing could be more agreeable than a journey on which one encounters an old friend distributing bread.
I was rather taken by one of the examples cited by the Shorter OED: "Perhaps the shame and misery of this life may commute for hell".

I have now commuted the commuting.

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