Float (as in a parade)

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Float (as in a parade)

Post by Archived Topic » Tue Oct 12, 2004 8:10 pm

Could someone pelase verify if its origins go back to the Lord Mayor's Show in the City of London. Originally the Lord Mayor Show was conducted on the river Thames and the displays floated down the river, presenting the newly elected Lord Mayor to the citizens of London. When the parade moved onto the land, the term "float" stayed.


Submitted by Graeme Wallace (Toronto - Canada)
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Float (as in a parade)

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Oct 12, 2004 8:25 pm

Graeme, It is my opinion, that the idea that the word ‘float,’ as in parade float, has its origin in the ‘Lord Mayor’s Show,’ is bogus. I did find the opinion that the word originated with decorated barges, but after doing some checking it strikes me as being folk etymology – a seemingly convincing made up story that appears to fit.

Typical of the quotes which I believe to be inaccurate are: “The parade ‘float’ was originally named this because the first floats were decorated barges that were towed along canals with ropes held by parade marchers on the shore.” And “From 1422 and for centuries after, it [Lord Mayor’s Show] traveled down the River Thames - hence the term 'floats', . . .”
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The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary breaks the noun ‘float’ into four categories. Category III appears to give the chronological history of the ‘float’ as a means of transportation:

FLOAT, noun, III: A broad, level, shallow means of transportation. 10) A raft, a flat-bottomed boat. Late Middle English [1350-1469]. 11) A low-bodied cart or vehicle; . . . . Mid-19th century. 12) A platform on wheels with a display on it, used in processions. Late-19th century.

According to the OED the word ‘float,’ as in parade float, came into use in the late 19th century and before that in the mid 19th century it had the meaning of a low-bodied cart or vehicle. The 1911 ‘Encyclopedia Britannica’ defines the relevant float as follows: “The word is also applied to something broad, level and shallow, as a wooden frame attached to a cart or wagon for the purpose of increasing the carrying capacity; and to a special kind of low, broad cart for carrying heavy weights, and to a platform on wheels used for shows in a procession.”

The 2003 Britannica categorized the historical ‘float’ (the cart) as a type of ‘dray’ (OED: “a low, strong cart without fixed sides, for carrying heavy loads”). It defines DRAY: “The heaviest type of dead-axle wagon used in conjunction with a team of draft animals. Drays were either of the two- or four-wheeled type and were employed most often in and about cities for the transport of heavy loads or objects such as large machines. Features of the dray included smaller wheels than those used on other wagons, a flat, level floor, and, usually, no sides. Some drays, however, did have box bodies or stake sides. Machinery trucks, FLOATS, and transfer wagons were specialized varieties of drays.”

So, it seems fairly clear that the ‘float’ as a type of ‘dray’ or cart probably came from the fact that it resembled or actually was a type of flat-bottomed boat called a 'float' (possibly with small wheels) at one time and not because “the first floats were decorated barges.” However, the name of the parade or procession ‘float,’ which took its meaning in the late 19th century appears to have gotten its name directly from what it was at that time – a type of cart or dray.
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Ken G – November 14, 2003






Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Float (as in a parade)

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Oct 12, 2004 8:39 pm

How about 'float' as in 'a root beer float'? The ice-cream never floats on top of the root beer so why do they call it a float?

Sam 15/11/03
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Float (as in a parade)

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Oct 12, 2004 8:53 pm

Sam. It’s the root beer that floats! (<:)
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Ken G – November 15, 2003

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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