Pickup, with reference to a truck, dates from the 1920s, and originates in the U.S. However the word already had a long history in the railway industry; from the 1850s, a “pickup train” was a train run specifically to pick up empty wagons from the yards and depots where they had discharged their cargoes and bring them, still empty, to a yard or depot where they were to be take on a new cargo. Because they stopped and started a lot, and engaged in a good deal of shunting, pickup trains were slow, and therefor a niusance to faster, revenue-generating traffic, but they were essential to the operation of a goods railway. Very often a pickup train was run last thing at night along a goods line. Over time the phrase broadened in meaning, and could apply to any train which stopped at every station to pick up goods or passengers not served by the faster through trains.
My guess is that the pickup truck was so called because it was designed for carrying goods in small quantities over short journeys. You’d take the truck empty to a yard, depot or store, pick up the goods , bring them to a destination (or a few destinations), and then bring the truck, probably empty, back to base. Actually loading and unloading the goods is relatively quick, because the truck bed is open, but for the same reason the goods are exposed during carriage and so pickups tend not to be used for long journeys or large loads.
“Truck” refers to any wheeled vehicle designed for carrying loads, and comes from the idea of wagons that did the same thing, which itself comes from the meaning for the wheels, which is either from the Latin trochlea or torchus, both of which coming from the Greek trokhos, meaning wheel, which is derived from the trekhein which means “to run.” (From Wikipedia)
“Pickup” is a distinguishing aspect, in that you just put the load directly into the truck, picking it up, rather than having to attach some sort of trailer.
Wasn’t there a thread just in the last few days in which we examined the history and usage of the word “truck”?
When I was in college at Berkeley, early 1970’s, and living in an all-male rooming house, we put on a dance every once in a while in the dining room. A few guys would head over to Mills College, an all-female college in Oakland, in one or two of these “pickup truck” vehicles, where they would collect a sampling of females to bring back to the dance. Now you know why it’s called a “pickup” truck.
I couldn’t tell you how it all fits together, but ‘truck’ seems to refer to an axle/wheel assembly. I wouldn’t be surprised if when, what we call ‘trucks’ (as in “can I borrow your truck”) first showed up, there was some longer name for them and it was shorted to ‘truck’ as they became more popular.
So how is the word “truck”, associated with wheeled assemblies, connected to the old word truck, as in, “I wouldn’t have any truck with him” (meaning, I would have nothing to do with him). Or is it of completely separate origin?
It’s a different origin. We just had a thread, recently revived, about “I’ll have no truck with him.” It comes from the Middle English word trukien and also the French word troque, which both mean “to trade or to barter.” So if you will have no truck with somebody, it means you’ll have no business with him.
Probably derives from Latin trochus, a wheel. Came into English in the early seventeenth century; originally it referred to the small wooden wheeled carriage on which ships’ guns were mounted. It also referred to a wheeled block though which rigging ropes were run. Then it moved from the ship to the dockside; a wheeled cart for moving goods. And then from the dockside to other industrial contexts; a quarry might have trucks, or strong flat open trolleys, for carrying blocks of stone.
The point about a truck, I think, is that it was mostly wheel. A flat open railway wagon - basically, a platform on top of four wheels - was a truck, but a locomotive was considered to be an assemblage of a boiler, firebox, etc supported by two (or more) trucks. (We’d probably call the trucks “bogeys” nowadays.)
So a motor vehicle was a “truck” if it was basically a flat surface (for carrying goods) on wheels, with an engine and some minimal space for the driver. The more you provided, e.g., further coachwork, accommodation for other passengers, etc, the less likely was it that the vehicle would be described as a “truck”. But over time the focus shifted from the pared-down structure to the purpose; a motor vehicle designed for the carriage of goods is a truck even if it has, e.g, a fully enclosed body, and even if it rides on a number of wheel assemblies which, in the past, might each have been called a truck.
This development may have been influenced by the other sense of “truck”. Entirely coincidentally, “truck” derived from the Latin trocare means to deal or trade in goods; to barter. So a truck, the vehicle, would often be employed in the course of truck, the business. “Truck” in this sense is near-obsolete, but survives in phrases like “to have no truck with someone”, meaning to have no dealings with him, to have nothing to do with him.
But, as UDS proposes, does it not make sense that “pickup” in this this context could mean ad-hoc or outside of an official use. You might use a milk truck to transport your milk, use a hay truck to transport your excess hay, and use a pickup truck for transporting whatever odds and ends need moving.
ETA: If you put your load in a trailer and transported with something that was carrying no load but the trailer, then you would have a tractor-trailer.
I think maybe it has to do with the fact that you would use a train or a larger truck to carry goods long distances from the place of production to the place of distribution, and the Pickup Truck would only be used to pick up whatever small portion of the cargo that a particular consumer needed. I think someone already used the expression “last mile” to refer to that last stage of a product’s travels.
At the risk of a slight hijack, can someone explain why we use the word “semi”? That just sounds like it’s part of a truck (yes, I realize the trailer is the other part). Is that why we call them that? Or is there some other reason?
Except that pickup trucks are not generally used for that purpose. For the “last mile” a delivery truck would be used. They are not commonly used commercially (unless you mow lawns or work as a handyman).
All trucks “pick up” cargo. If you are truck, that is what you do. The differentiator has to be some other aspect of the vehicle. I am thinking something like a “pickup” game of basketball or to “pick up” the slack. Meaning either something which is quick and informal or something that does a job that others have left uncompleted.
I can’t cite rhyme or reason but I remember reading “somewhere” that small farmers raised crops that were known as “truck” for the simple reason their produce was generally delivered to farmer’s markets originally by horse drawn wagons that were replaced by small trucks. Therefore a pickup truck was one whose original use was to truck to the farmers markets the truck crops produced by truck farmers. I might have dreamed all this or a I might have bought into a joke or sorts. Why the crops in question were known as truck crops I have no idea.