I've recently become confused at the use of the word express, specifically in circumstances where companies use the word to describe a slightly different service than their typical service.

For example the USPS has Global Express Mail, which offers to move a package as quickly as possible (for added fee, of course). Similarly, some train services called "express" are/were offered as or advertised as faster services (probably a callback to the Pony Express). Also common is the "express lane" that gives you faster service in any sort of queued waiting scheme.

Conversely, sometimes companies have used the word express to denote free or cheap, and even sometimes diminished. Software companies do this frequently, calling versions of their software that are cheaper and sometimes containing less features "express versions".

I'm most recently confused by Uber's new service "Express Pool", an extension of "Pool". In Uber Pool, the driver picks up you and others near you, then drops all passengers off near the same location. It takes a bit longer than regular Uber, but costs less. Pool Express extends the savings further by asking all the passengers to walk and wait a bit and meet in the same spot, so the driver only has one pickup.

So here we have Uber, a transportation service, using the word "express" for a service that's actually slower.

Looking in a few dictionaries, I found entries that define it as "fast", but found none that define it as "cheap". But there's plenty of examples of people using it as "cheap". I'm hoping an answer can clarify this usage difference, and possibly note how the word came to have these two meanings, which, at least in Uber's case, can imply the exact opposite meaning (i.e. if Uber Express Pool becomes popular, people may come to think the word means slower).

  • 1
    I have never heard 'express' used to mean less expensive or "cheap'.
    – J. Taylor
    Feb 21, 2018 at 17:24
  • 1
    @J.Taylor Microsoft is a big example. Maybe it's an American thing.
    – user39425
    Feb 21, 2018 at 17:27
  • 1
    Uber's Express Pool is similar to an express train in that it makes fewer stops, so your time spent in the car is usually less than if it made multiple stops. Compare this to a local train/regular Uber pool, where each stop adds to the time of people still onboard. If you don't count the wait time, Express Pool should be faster in most cases. The car ride itself is "express", but the whole experience may not be. Feb 21, 2018 at 17:33
  • 1
    The ‘cheap’ sense is just a logical extension of the ‘fast’ sense: if you offer a product that you use less time on, that product will likely be of inferior quality, and you can sell it cheaper. An express course is one with fewer hours of teacher-student interaction, taking less time, and therefore also likely cheaper. An express train is faster than a regular train because it spends less time calling at local stations than a commuter train (though express trains are not usually cheaper)—but if your point A or B is far from an express station, the total travel time may be longer. Feb 21, 2018 at 17:38
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet in many cases fast is meant to be high quality and is priced accordingly: cars, bikes, the trains you mention. So I don't see enough of a correlation between fast and cheap for the extension to be particularly logical. Of course in the other side we have fast food, and most things described as express service are far from premium service
    – Chris H
    Feb 21, 2018 at 19:27

2 Answers 2


In the software case, it's more a synonym for light (lightweight things move fast) than cheap. Such stripped-down versions often did run (or install) faster on basic hardware than the full-featured program. Outlook express, for example, was actually a different product to Outlook. You could install it from a magazine cover disc (or even download it if you had the bandwidth) rather than wait for discs to arrive in the post, or go to a shop and buy Office. Now they tend to be crippled installs of the full code, so no lighter.

Uber are essentially trying to reinvent the bus, but without intermediate stops (or using a word that implies public transport). Express bus routes (like the one I used to commute on) are often structured as a few stops in the suburbs, then straight to the city centre - does that sound familiar? If you're lucky (and advertising wants you to assume you will be) this will take you exactly where you want to go without all that tedious driving round picking up other people, while still being good value. And it may actually be quicker if you and the car travel simultaneously to an optimised location, rather than you having to wait for it to reach you then head back into the same slow traffic just to pass a point you could have walked to quicker.

Often the goal in advertising is to make you think you're getting a premium product at a bargain price; clearly this by usually the case so the name is chosen to imply whatever benefits are plausible.

So express isn't a synonym for cheap in either case (or any other). By reading it as such, you're seeing through the branding.

  • "By reading it as such, you're seeing through the branding." I know I'm not smart enough to be the only person.
    – user39425
    Feb 21, 2018 at 17:56
  • The strange thing is that knowing what they're up to doesn't completely negate the effects of advertising
    – Chris H
    Feb 21, 2018 at 19:12


In some contexts being cheap can connote with fast/easy acquisition so marketers with nothing better to do might've coined this new usage.

It's similar to how "express delivery" can also mean "special (fast) delivery". That interpretation became common enough to make its way into the dictionary.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.