Etymology question: How did the term "Union Local" develop and why don't we say "Local Union"?

Example: "I expect to get the call to start this plant up immediately,” said Simmons, who worked there for nearly 40 years and heads the United Steelworkers Local 1899.

Quick Citation: "Some steelworkers love Trump tariffs. Others fear them." ; Paquette, Danielle; Washington Post; 03/06/18

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    A union local is not merely a local union, but also a local branch of a national union.
    – choster
    Mar 28, 2018 at 14:29
  • Thank you for the speedy reply. However I'm wishing for more clarification. Can anyone speak to the etymology of this phrase? My personal theory is that the development of the adjective-noun reversal (in this situation) is based on the conjecture that unions developed in Europe. However, the American unions seem to be the largest or most popular, and this leads me back to the word order question.
    – Billy T
    Mar 28, 2018 at 16:20
  • Local is not an adjective, it's a noun, and as noted, used to distinguish the particular from the general. The etymology should thus be obvious. While local is common in trade unions, it is far from the only term; some organizations call their subordinate units chapters or chapels; terms used by other organizations include branches, lodges, aeries, or posts.
    – choster
    Mar 28, 2018 at 19:07
  • I was a little confused by the title. I thought you were asking about the exact phrase "Union Local", but based on the quotation, it seems like you are asking about phrases of the the form some specific union name + the word "Local". I would suggest indicating this by adding brackets, like "How did the term “{Union} Local” develop?
    – herisson
    Mar 28, 2018 at 21:59
  • I was, however I got too wrapped up in being unable to find "Local" as a noun. (However, my dictionary is a pretty cheap one. Smirk.) I really like the history surrounding words, but am hardly eloquent or succinct.
    – Billy T
    Mar 29, 2018 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


The word order of Union Local is simple to explain.
Local, a noun here, is a subset of a larger Union; local union would mean a union particular to a certain place and would have local as an adjective, rather than a noun. In the term Union Local, Union acts as a qualifier of Local.

The construction Union Local is possible because English adopted the adjective local as a noun in the 15th Century.

early 15c., "a medicament applied to a particular part of the body," from local (adj.). The Old French adjective also was used as a noun, "place, position." Meaning "inhabitant of a particular locality" is from 1825. The meaning "local item in a newspaper" is from 1869; that of "a local train" is from 1879; "local branch of a trade union" is from 1888; "neighborhood pub" is from 1934.-Etymonline

I don't think much more can be made of this. The term Union Local seems to have developed in a fairly ordinary way.

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    We use this construction in other things too, for example, the "520 Express" for a bus/train route. Mar 28, 2018 at 21:04

I can't speak to the origin of the phrase, but you're thinking about the phrase wrong. The "local" isn't modifying "union" as in the phrase "Local Union", the "local" is its own noun that is part of the whole national union.

For the phrase:

"United Steelworkers Local 1899"

You should think of it more as:

"United Steelworkers[,] Local [chapter] 1899"

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