Why don't Americans say "Street"?

In http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_433.html Cecil Adams calls the residence of the British Prime Minister “10 Downing”. This is perfectly correct in the American language, but to English speakers it sounds odd . The address is “10 Downing Street”, and that is what most of the world calls it.

Where did this American dialect usage came from? Why do Americans omit part of a street’s name, while we do not?

Is it because we use many descriptive words for our roads, while Americans do not? In our towns and cities we have Streets, Roads, Avenues, Lanes, Terraces, Parades, Walks, Quays, Rows, Courts, Greens and many more.

For example, in one small area of Dublin there is Harcourt Street, Harcourt Road, Harcourt Terrace and Harcourt Lane. A similar search in London produces twenty variations of Harcourt. In both cities, if you say you work on Harcourt, you are not giving useful information.

The same seems to apply in other languages. Parisiens and madrilenos use the full street name in referring to streets in Paris and Madrid.

Can anyone help me, as I have always been intrigued by this odd dialect usage?

My impression is that ‘street’ is assumed unless ‘lane’ or ‘road’ or whatever is given.

I live on 10613 Center Street, and I write it that way, but if I’m filling something out where there’s a space limitation, I leave off ‘Street’. I’ve never had a problem with it.

(technically, I live at <smallnum> Centre Street <differenttown> but the people in this county are not too bright)

This could be somewhat of a Chicago-ism. I know that here we often drop the suffix when refering to addresses (eg Madison and Franklin, or 200 W Jackson) with some notable exceptions (State Street, North Avenue, Lake Shore Drive). And as Unca Cece is based here, perhaps he followed local convention. Just a two-bit theory…

Now as to WHY we drop the street/avenue/route/et al… That’s one I don’t know. Perhaps because due to urban planning there are no same-name streets that are likely to be confused in the same general vicinity.

That practice is very common in the US as well. In my area, we have all of the above plus Courts, Circles, Parkways, Boulevards, etc. So it appears that real estate planners are just as creative on this side of the pond as they are on yours :slight_smile:

My $.02 would be that the usage of dropping the “Street” is common only where there is not expected to be any ambiguity caused by doing so.

This can backfire, though. In my urb there are two parallel roads in the same general part of town both named “Lane” (!) - “Lane Avenue” and “Lane Road”. One time a business told me their address was 9876 Lane. I spent a half hour on the wrong Lane before it dawned on me.

Street signs in San Francisco don’t specify “Street,” “Avenue,” or whatever. They just say “Folsom,” “Harrison,” “Haight” and so on. Evidently this is a way of weeding out the greenhorns. You’re just supposed to know.

Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame (censored)?

We certainly have all of the above-mentioned suffixes in America. However, when the location is unambiguous, people tend to drop it in casual conversation. Really, is there any other 10 Downing Street?

The ambiguities you describe regarding Harcourt St/Rd/Ln can have life or death consequences. When you call emergency services to report a car accident for example, Harcourt Street could easily become confused with Harcourt Lane, particularly to unfamiliar dispatchers working in a central office. There are have been a few cases where the confusion has delayed arrival until the victim was beyond help. As part of the Enhanced 911 system here in the States, there’s been an effort to reduce response time by renaming streets that are identical apart from the suffix. No longer can Harcourt St and Harcourt Ln exist in the same town. Every now and then there’s a write-up in my local paper about this. Usually, the long-time residents are annoyed at having their street name changed.

It’s a Philadelphia-ism as well. Most folks in the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection) drop the suffixes too. We all know Geno’s Steaks is at 9th [Street] and Passyunk [Avenue]. And the Academy of Music is on the corner of Broad [Street] and Locust [Street].

Two major exceptions:

The east-west state highway that runs through lower Bucks County and portions of Montgomery County from I-95 to Route 611 is always “Street Road.” Yes, that’s what it’s called. Street Road.

If you refer to “the Boulevard,” any Fluffyan worth the mustard on his or her soft pretzel will know you’re talking about Roosevelt Boulevard, the twelve-lane stretch of US Route 1 running from the Bucks County line to the Wayne Avenue Extension at 9th Street.


I thought Enhanced 911 (E911) used a combination of caller-ID and a geographic data base to pinpoint the location of the caller. Can’t imagine the impact of only one “Peachtree” Street (etc.) in Atlanta.

It does, but caller ID doesn’t work on cell phones, for example. Eliminating duplicate street names is only a small part of the overall plan.

It probably differs regionally in the US. Some cities take pains to assure that names are unique without suffixes, and people living there are likely to leave them off. Others, Denver, for example, actually systematically construct naming systems for related streets that depend on suffix to distinguish between “such and such street” versus “such and such way” and so on. Residents of those cities will, of neccesity, remember to attach suffixes to street addresses.

I hadn’t heard that any 911 system was going to attempt to enforce uniqueness apart from suffix. It would be a major discombobulation in some places, like Denver.

Here in New York, it’s dropped because the avenues only go up to 12, whereas the streets go to at least 250something. When I say I live on West 15th, there’s only one place I can be. Come to think of it, due to some peculiarities of Manhattan’s layout there are very few ambiguous intersections…f’rinstance, if you say First and Sixth, that will mean First Avenue and Sixth Street, because First Street merges into Houston* well before Sixth Avenue.

*And remember, kiddies - in New York it’s “HOW-ston,” not “HYUU-ston.”

As if to add to the confusion, an important road in our town is called “Boulevard” Just Boulevard. Luckilly it doesn’t have that much in the way of business compared to our other important cross streets, but many have been confused by being told that they should go to “Boulevard.” Worse still, it turns into “West Boulevard” when it goes into Hartford, which is east of my town. So “West Boulevard” is east of “Boulevard.” West Boulevard is actually pretty important because it’s how many people get to I-84 and therefore downtown.

Other than that mess people round these parts usually refer to places by their full names, unless they’re major streets in which case people know what you’re talking about when you say Main, Park, Trout Brook, Asylum Albany or Boulevard.

I will point out here that in European cities, the “numbered” street system is never used (I should probably say almost never since someone will invariably find an exception to the rule). Most streets have “historical” names, e.g. “Rue des Boulangers” = “Road of the Bakers” meaning that at one time there were a lot of bakeries on that road.

When an address or roadway is famous and/or one distinct location is topical to the conversation, I sometimes leave off descriptors. Interestingly enough, I would not do that with #10 Downing Street. That is how I have always heard it spoken. Nor 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I live on Blue between Red and Yellow” is how I describe where I live to folks who know the area. I am on Blue Ave, between Red Street and Yellow Street. (Names changed to protect, well, ME!)

Thank you all for your comments. These confirm that there is a US practice of dropping the “Street” or similar qualifier from the road name. However, none of you has indicated why this practice exists in US only - it does not seem to be normal elsewhere.

In other countries, we do not confuse names because the full name is always used. No one in Dublin or London would call emergency assistance to “Harcourt” - they would use the entire name of Harcourt Street.

The US practice of omitting “Street” must lead to many ambiguity problems. Why not change the naming practice rather than rename a lot of streets?

I suspect it may exist because so many US cities are young places. They were designed in grid systems, and did not develop naturally as historic living places. Our cities are more mature - Dublin is more than a thousand years old - and have developed very differently. We have small roads and lanes off big streets, and these often take their name from the larger street.

The original group culture of the US was largely European-based, yet the practice is not a European one. However, it is firmly established all over the US, as posts above indicate.

Can anyone give a clear insight into why this practice exists?

First of all, this is not a universal practice in the US. If there is any chance for confusion, people do say “street”.

However, Americans tend to be direct and to-the-point. If something is obviously a street, it is redundant to add the word “street” after it. That’s also why we don’t use those silly french spellings like centre and theatre.

I’m from a small town in the Midwest, & there is very little call in my hometown to use “Street” or “Avenue” as a suffix. There is both a Murphy Avenue & a Murphy Boulevard, and that’s about it. In fact, I imagine most of the locals think the “Avenues” are “Streets.” The numbered streets are all parallel to each other, & “Street,” & the rest of the roads have reasonably distinct names. It’s a small town, largely built in recent generations, & reasonably well-planned.

I think it’s mainly a convention of simplicity. It has to do with the trend of abbreviating commonly used identifiers. It’s mostly a casual conversation thing.

Like “Go down to ‘the park’, turn left on MacAvetti, take two lights, and it’s the green building on the left.” “The park” probably has a name, but it’s not relevant as there’s probably only one park between the two locations, especially on the street in question. MacAvetti could be a street, lane, boulevard, or any of the other dozen designations given above, but all that’s important is that it is MacAvetti and not Main Street, or Redrum Avenue, or Hendersonville Lane. Why bother having to say “Benjamin Milam Park”, “MacAvetti Avenue”, “two traffic lights”, and “the MacMurphy Office Building, 10 Park Lane”?

As to why the rest of the world doesn’t do that, I don’t know.

We’re much less formal and we are on a first name basis, so we just say Peekaboo.