7th December 2020

What is the difference between a truck and a lorry?

The words truck and lorry are both used in the haulage industry, but do they mean the same thing? The UK and the USA have different ideas on the correct name for an HGV, but do truck and lorry mean different things across the pond?

This article will trace the origins of each term and reveal the variations between a truck and a lorry.

The meaning of lorry

The lorry meaning originates from the verb, ‘lurry’ - meaning to lug or pull about. Reports suggest that this dates back to the 16th century - a long time before the HGV industry was established.

The word, lorry was first used in Britain to categorise a low-loading trolley, pulled by a horse-drawn vehicle to carry other vehicles and large loads. Lorry was also used to describe a freight carrying rail car. These are likely to have been the first transport lorries.

Print records indicate that the lorry definition was first mentioned in 1911, as a ‘large motor vehicle used to carry cargo.’

Origin of the word truck

The word truck in British English first appeared in 1611 and meant, ‘small wheel or roller.’ These small wheels were used to support warship cannons. Truck is a shortened form of the word, ‘truckle,’ meaning, ‘wheel, roller or pulley.’ This originates from the Latin, ‘trochlea’ - translating to ‘pulley.’

The meaning of truck was first recognised in print in 1774 to describe a ‘wheeled vehicle used for transporting heavy items.’ 

Are there mechanical differences between trucks and lorries?

A lot of people argue that all lorries are trucks, but not all trucks are lorries - suggesting that lorries are bigger than trucks. When you think about pick-up trucks and vans, this becomes clear.  

When you think about the term ‘trucker,’ it could apply to somebody behind the wheel of a truck or a lorry. But if you analyse the technical differences between a truck and a lorry, they are both classed as HGV vehicles.  

lorry vs truck

What is a British lorry?

In the British transport industry, most drivers would categorise an HGV as a lorry, a truck, or an artic (an articulated vehicle.) In the lorry vs truck debate, each word has its own story, but why is lorry only used in the British vocabulary?

The truth is, a lorry in American English is a truck. The British lorry is almost the same as the American truck, and the two words have morphed into synonyms of each other. The evidence suggests that the reason for the difference is the national language and vocabulary choice. 

Similar to an American calling a cab and a Brit phoning a taxi, or speaking to a friend on a cell compared to chatting on a mobile, truck and lorry are the same things. 

The reason the British say lorry and Americans say truck, is because each word is part of their terminology. Since the early 20th century, lorry and truck have both described the HGVs that are essential to our society.

The Dictionary proves that the two words have identical meanings: 

lorry etymology

What is a lorry called in America?

In America, drivers use the terms, rigs, semi’s, tractors, 18 wheelers, and of course trucks, to describe a lorry. But as we now know, these can all be classified as a lorry or truck. It just depends if you speak American English or British English.

International HGV names

The only other English-speaking country to commonly use the term lorry is, Ireland. Although India, Singapore and Malaysia are all part of the lorry club too. 

On the other side, Australia refers to their HGVs as trucks, as do Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa. 

In conclusion, although each word has its own story, a truck and a lorry are very much the same things.

Josh Cousens | SNAP. 

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