There seems to a variety of terminology around the verb "to pull" in English driving, which always puzzles me. Here are some examples:

Do these phrases have some (common) historical origin (such as, being pulled by a horse before cars were motorized), or did I miss some very general meaning of "to pull" when learning English?

  • Etymon only has one expression of this type: 'To pull up "check a course of action" is from 1808, figurative of the lifting of the reins in horse-riding.' But it does mention the link with 'draw', and I think 'draw' works in all your examples. Oct 3, 2016 at 15:03
  • Are these terms not used in British English? Oct 3, 2016 at 15:49
  • @KevinWorkman Perhaps less so, but they're definitely used. Oct 3, 2016 at 16:35
  • @EdwinAshworth, would you say draw [the car] into/out of the garage? It's not at all idiomatic in the US, but maybe in other parts of the English-speaking world it is? I also wouldn't ever say the police drew me over etc., but I might possibly say the car drew away from the curb (at least it doesn't sound wrong to me).
    – 1006a
    Oct 3, 2016 at 16:39
  • 1
    Likely this locution came from the time that vehicles were pulled by horses. In the US, we measure engine power by horsepower (each equal to 745.7 watts), and you can still ask "How many horses do you have under the hood?" to inquire about an engine.
    – deadrat
    Oct 3, 2016 at 17:49

2 Answers 2


I suspect this is a hang-over from animal-drawn conveyances. The wagon would be pulled in to the side of the road in order to stop within causing obstruction.


Merriam-Webster Unabridged, in its Synonym Discussion for the verb form of pull, notes:

draw, drag, haul, hale, tug, tow: pull is a general term meaning to move in the direction of the person or thing exerting force

It's interesting to note that, seen in this light, the direction you're trying to go is what's exerting the force on your vehicle (e.g. when you're pulling into traffic, the traffic is what is supplying the pull; your vehicle has simply latched onto it, metaphorically speaking).

  • I can understand how traffic could be pulling. It is moving after all. But how about "we pulled into the parking lot"? I don't fell like the parking lot is pulling at all :)
    – bers
    Oct 3, 2016 at 21:37
  • I disagree about your pulling into traffic line. One can be "pulled along by the crowd" - in which the crowd is doing the pulling. But when you "pull into traffic", you are pulling yourself.
    – John Feltz
    Oct 6, 2016 at 19:25

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