'Subway' and 'underpass' in British English

Something else Christmassy, this time spotted in Forest Hill, London:



This interested me because of the use of 'subway' to refer to what I would call an 'underpass' (namely a tunnel that enables pedestrians to cross under a road).

Googling reveals that the two terms are often used interchangeably in British English. For example, I found an article in the Barking & Dagenham Post which begins:

A 71-year-old man was beaten to the ground by a group of thugs as he walked past a notorious subway.

The pensioner was attacked near the underpass linking the Mark's Gate Estate to East Road, Chadwell Heath.

The OED Online indicates that 'underpass' originated in the US – where, of course, 'subway' is used to mean "underground railway" (again, OED Online).

I wonder whether 'underpass' is ousting 'subway' here in Britain.

So a couple of questions, mainly for our British readership: would you use 'subway', 'underpass' or both? If both, is there any difference in how you would use them?

No jokes about sandwich shops, please.

(Oh, and I appreciate that 'subway' is a shorter word than 'underpass', and therefore easier to fit on a sign.)

4 comments:

Apus said...

My vote's for underpass. In the USA isn't the subway also what we'd call the underground, as in underground trains?

Electric Dragon said...

I vote for "subway", because that's how they're usually signposted.

Kel said...

I personally would say underpass (though I have the American bias against subway due to the underground trains) but I have encountered subway... in Italy and Hungary. My favorite instance was in a little town in northern Italy, where a bright yellow subway went under the town's busy street. Someone had spray-painted on a wall, "We all live in a yellow sub...way." Not bad for second language wit.

Gez said...

Underpass sounds more British than subway. I like underpass better. Maybe it's because of the line in the Smiths song, 'And in a darkened underpass, I thought "Oh God, my chance has come as last," but then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn't ask.'

If it's good enough for Mozza...