The following is an email conversation between myself and Travis Wittwer, a cool guy in Portland, Oregon, whom I stayed with in April 2010. We’ve had similar conversations before about the language writers (mainly newspaper article authors) use when speaking about and describing situations where “people and their bicycles make contact with people and their cars” (yes, there’s an easier way to say that, read on).


Interesting use and structure of words; even the title is a problem: Statement from [Portland] Mayor Sam Adams on Bicycle Crash at SW 3rd and Madison.


This part is weird: “there was a collision between a motor vehicle and bicycle and the young woman on the bicycle lost her life.”

I don’t see an issue with the title. What is your opinion?


It wasn’t a “bicycle crash”. It was a collision. A truck did the colliding.

My kids have bicycle crashes.

I found it odd that (1) the bicycle should be made main character, (2) no human element, and (3) it is a crash rather than collision or smearing or killing or death…

Crash does not infer the idea of negative end. Nor does it infer another vehicle.


I see it now.

I think I am going to use collision more often. And try to phase crash out. But I’ve already embedded crash in my own thought processes and in a lot of the websites I’ve created (like – it just redirects to Grid Chicago) and articles I’ve written.

This is the key motivation for me to switch to using collision: “Nor does it infer another vehicle.”

A crash, now, seems like something you have by yourself. A collision demands that the second party be identified.


Cool. Life is a series of thoughts and much of how you have gone about language has caused me to think. Creating a bike friendly style guide would be a great endeavor.

Whatever you say, please don’t use “accident”. For the kind of analysis I do, writing “collision” is probably the most accurate word. I’ve been using “crash” ever since I started diving into the traffic crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation. I will continue using “crash” for much of my writing, but I will start writing “collision” more often.

Tweets that helped shape this discussion

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Further reading

I’ve written a few times about language and word choice (or “englishousness” as Travis calls it):

Updated 23:26 to add Further reading links, tweets, and a longer concluding statement.