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?

  • 2
    St. Petersburg, Russia, subway uses ‘Way Out’ rather than more frequent “Exit”. Oct 28, 2011 at 19:16
  • 2
    I'm English, and I see lots of exits. For example, I've never yet seen a "Fire Way Out".
    – user11931
    Nov 4, 2011 at 22:04
  • 1
    tripadvisor.co.uk/… has a mere 85 comments on way out vs exit signs on the London Underground.
    – k1eran
    May 3, 2018 at 21:24
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    Surely, they don't avoid the use of "exit" everywhere. Brwayout doesn't have the same ring to it, after all. Oct 24, 2018 at 20:43
  • @IanMacDonald brexit, derived from grexit, was actually coined by an American economist working for Citigroup.
    – JJJ
    Oct 24, 2018 at 21:00

5 Answers 5


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.

  • 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, 2011 at 22:38
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    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, 2011 at 4:37
  • This doesn't actually appear to answer the question...
    – Marthaª
    Nov 4, 2011 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, 2011 at 4:43
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    @JPmiaou - that's probably just to annoy foreigners. Which is also the only logical explanation for the existence of Heathrow T5
    – mgb
    Nov 5, 2011 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.


Way Out and Exit don't specifically mean the same thing.

Exit is a substitute for Way Out, but and exit sign doesn't ALWAYS denote an EXIT, it denotes a route to the actual exit.

In other words, when you see Exit, you have to translate that the exit may not be Right there, it's the way out of area leading to the actual exit location.

You will typically find EXIT over actual exit doors, on highways (née motorways) to mark the next exit, and other places, but generally when there's a path to be followed, you'll see the way out sign... or perhaps even more commonly the Japanese man running through green-lit room through a door sign that is the ISO standard way of indicating an exit and used in many places around the world.

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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?

  • 4
    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, 2013 at 16:20
  • No; 'exit' as being discussed here is a modern English word. English is not racist when it comes to borrowings. May 2, 2018 at 21:07

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

  • Which is which? Dec 12, 2012 at 21:23
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    "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, 2012 at 22:10
  • "exit" is the everyday word in the USA. So, which came first, the choice of signage or the usage pattern? Dec 12, 2012 at 22:17
  • 1
    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. Dec 18, 2012 at 16:05

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