English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

At public transport interchanges throughout the English-speaking world (and where there are English signs for the benefit of travellers in non-English-speaking countries), the exits are marked, appropriately enough, Exit. The one exception seems to be Britain, where they're marked Way out. I'm just back from Northern Ireland, where Exit is used.

Does anyone know the reason for this?

share|improve this question
What do you mean with benefits? Usually a phrase is not chosen basing on eventual benefits. – kiamlaluno Jul 31 '11 at 21:50
@kiamlaluno. I didn't use the word benefits. Someone edited it in. I'll try to think of a better phrasing. – TRiG Jul 31 '11 at 22:38
@TRiG No, you used something worse, you asserted with that British "dislike", but with no substantiation, so I changed it to something more less ignorant. – Grant Thomas Aug 10 '11 at 11:53
St. Petersburg, Russia, subway uses ‘Way Out’ rather than more frequent “Exit”. – Alexey Ivanov Oct 28 '11 at 19:16
I'm English, and I see lots of exits. For example, I've never yet seen a "Fire Way Out". – Steve314 Nov 4 '11 at 22:04
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Way out and exit mean approximately the same thing. Is it too simple an answer just to postulate that our authorities may have happened to standardize on different terminology because it sounded better to them, or because it sounded more naturally-spoken in the respective country? In other words: there isn't a 'reason'. You're overanalyzing.

share|improve this answer
Sure. It's just one of those things I always notice in England and Wales, and seeing it was different in Northern Ireland brought it to the forefront of my mind. – TRiG Jul 31 '11 at 22:38
Official signs tend to be EXIT, it's short easy to recognise and universal. The way out signs were probably from before there were health and safety rules requiring EXIT signs, some (eg. on parts of the London underground) are left for historical interest or because the fit the decor of an old building – mgb Aug 1 '11 at 4:37
This doesn't actually appear to answer the question... – Marthaª Nov 4 '11 at 21:27
@MartinBeckett: except that I distinctly recall "Way Out" signs at Heathrow, in the brand-spanking-new building that international flights go through. – JPmiaou Nov 5 '11 at 4:43
@JPmiaou - that's probably just to annoy foreigners. Which is also the only logical explanation for the existence of Heathrow T5 – mgb Nov 5 '11 at 4:49

I think it is to differentiate between the normal everyday way out and the fire exits that should only be used in emergencies.

share|improve this answer

Because "exit" is a Latin word (meaning "he/she/it goes out"). Why use Latin when a perfectly good phrase based on Anglo-Saxon English serves the same purpose?

share|improve this answer
1. Because it's three characters shorter. 2. Because then exit wouldn't be used anywhere, but it is used rather widely and people are used to it. 3. Because by your reasoning the word exit in fact wouldn't exist in the first place. 4. Because you don't even lead by example — your answer is just two short sentences, and yet it's chock-full of words of Latin origin where Germanic words would do. – RegDwigнt Jan 11 '13 at 16:20

The benefit that that is the ordinary everyday phrase, not some funny bit of "officialese"?

share|improve this answer
Which is which? – Andrew Lazarus Dec 12 '12 at 21:23
"Way out" is an everyday phrase. "Exit" is little used outside special contexts, such as theatrical directions, or the phrases "Fire exit" and "Emergency exit". – Colin Fine Dec 12 '12 at 22:10
"exit" is the everyday word in the USA. So, which came first, the choice of signage or the usage pattern? – Andrew Lazarus Dec 12 '12 at 22:17
I concur with @ColinFine - one can leave (or exit) via the way out, which sounds more natural to my ear. To exit via the exit sounds odd, at least to me. It's also an implicit contraction, '...where's the way out of here?' which is also fairly American in feel but still, I would argue, in common usage in BrE. – Christopher Woods Dec 18 '12 at 16:05

protected by RegDwigнt Jan 11 '13 at 16:23

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.