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purephase's avatar

Where did the term "devil strip" come from?

Asked by purephase (744points) January 13th, 2009 from iPhone

For as long as I can remember, the strip of grass between the street and sidewalk is called the “devil strip”. My girlfriend has always called it the “tree lawn” and thinks I’m crazy. Anyone know where the term came from?

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16 Answers

EnzoX24's avatar

For some reason I had assumed you were talking about hair that is purposely left while shaving a certain area.

asmonet's avatar

I always called it the ant’s jungle.
It was no man’s land. Or at least no little girl’s.

syz's avatar

I’ve never heard that.

purephase's avatar

@asmonet: Ant’s jungle is great!

Nimis's avatar

It seems to have come from Ohio.
Are you from Ohio?

purephase's avatar

I am! Damn, I thought it was a common term.

loser's avatar

Hmm. I didn’t even know that had a name!

tennesseejac's avatar

@Enzo: I think the hair left is called a “landing strip”. Never heard of a devil strip, I have heard it called “tree lawn”. mos def like the ant’s jungle

WayToGo's avatar

The section of grass between the street and sidewalk. Also called a tree lawn. It is pretty much an Ohio thing. Something about it being the border between public and private land. Owned by the Devil.

EnzoX24's avatar

@tennesseejac: Maybe its a combination of words, because that’s where the Devil lands his penis shaped airplane.

purephase's avatar

@EnzoX24 Well, the devil better keep his penis plane away from my vagina lawn.

Kayak8's avatar

The term is linguistically unique to the Akron, OH area and some parts of New Jersey (last time I took linguistics, anyway).

Some think it refers to a sense of “no man’s land.” It is not your property, but you are responsible for it.

Arkady226's avatar

My vfrother just told me he heard astorty about this on NPR. And yes, I grew up in NE Ohio (Youngstown) and this is what we called that plot of land between street and sidewalk). I copied this from the following site:

Tales from the berm.

Dear Word Detective: Recently, a friend said that she parked her car on the “devil strip” and explained that this was the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road. Can you tell me what the origin of this term is? (She’s from Ohio)—Wendy Klepfer, via the internet.

Oh, well, there’s your answer. People in (and from) Ohio are just plain weird. (I’m allowed to say that because I happen to live in Ohio at the moment.) Ohio boggles the mind. Our local county sheriff just got himself indicted by a grand jury on 323 felony charges, but steadfastly refuses to stop running for re-election. And there’s a good chance that he’ll win. I think there’s something in the water around here.

What people call that strip between the street and the sidewalk turns out to depend on where they live. When I was growing up in Connecticut, we called it the “shoulder,” but other terms heard around the U.S. include “tree bank” (common in Massachusetts), ” berm,” “right of way,” “green strip” and the logical, if unglamorous, “dog walking area.”

According to The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), which pays close attention to such local lingo, “devil strip” is heard almost exclusively in Northeastern Ohio, up around Akron. DARE suggests that the term may arise from the strip’s legal status as a sort of “no man’s land” between public and private property.

“Devil” occurs in many such folk terms, applied to plants, animals, places and things, usually those considered dangerous or unattractive, and the sense of “devil” when found in place names is often “barren, unproductive and unused.” DARE notes a similar term “devil’s lane,” first appearing around 1872, meaning the unusable strip of land between two parallel fences, often the result of neighbors being unable to agree on a common fence. And another term, “devil’s footstep,” dates back to around 1860 and means “a spot of barren ground.” So it’s not surprising that a strip of land next to the street, unusable by anyone, would be christened the “devil strip.” In fact, for Ohio, it’s downright logical.

AnnaMay296's avatar

I grew up in Youngstown and have always use the same term. Last night I was researching facts about the area and found the term used in a public document.

Timmo's avatar

The term Devils strip comes from the area between electric street cars that used to run in Akron Ohio and other uncle was a conductor..if you were standing in this area and two street cars came along at the same would know why they call it that…the term just carried over to the strip of grass between the road and the sidewalk..I didn’t know it was also used outside of Akron..but it makes sense…my grandmother always called it that and I finally ask her why..back in the 60’s…

drdeano's avatar

if im not mistaken i beleve it started on Akron,Ohio

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