Fine for parking here

Yesterday in class, someone, whether a student or I, said something about either one word with two different meanings or two very similar words, which made me think, ‘Oooh, are those two meanings/words actually related?’. After class, I promptly forgot about it, until mid-evening, when I suddenly had a memory of it happening, but no memory of what the meanings/words were. After some racking of my brains, I thought, ‘I’ll look in the textbook tomorrow morning’.

Fortunately, I remembered to do that, and found the word. The topic was traffic, and the textbook introduced compound nouns: bus lane, railway station, seat belt etc. One was parking fine, and I’d said something like ‘That’s not the same word as fine, ok’, before thinking ‘Oooh …’.

Before you continue, think for a moment whether fine, ok is related to parking fine, and if so, how?

They are related, through Latin finis, end, utmost limit, highest point. Something which is fine is the utmost of its kind (sort of; the modern meaning is weaker than the etymology would suggest). A parking fine represents the end of the matter – if you pay it; if you contest it, or default, then it’s not the end of the matter.

There’s an old joke to the effect that someone contested a parking fine on the grounds that the sign said ‘Fine for parking here’. In real life, signs say ‘No parking – Fines apply’ or ‘No parking – Penalty $550’.

And would you call the slip of paper under your windscreen wiper a parking fine or a parking ticket? I would call the money paid, the fine and the slip of paper, the ticket (1), but that is ambiguous with the ticket you pay for to park there in the first place (2): ‘I got a parking ticket (1) because I didn’t get a parking ticket (2)’ v ‘I got a parking ticket (2) so I didn’t get a parking ticket (1)’.

The musical term fine (the end) has the same etymology. I remember first pronouncing it ‘fine’ before someone who might read this told me that it was ‘fee-nay’, which I didn’t believe until our piano teacher told me the same thing.


One thought on “Fine for parking here

  1. Some of my favorite roadside signs are of the $1000 fine for littering variety. As a kid, I would get mental images of it being okay to toss exactly ( but ONLY exactly) $1000 in one dollar bills from the car. I was a strange child.
    My other favorite sign was Watch for Falling (or Fallen) Rocks. The idea that someone was giving away wristwatches for rocks was just too good.


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