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I'm curious about how long we've described distances as "walking" and if it's been used over a long period, what distance did it refer to over time?

The Online Etymological Dictionary, while including walking sickness, [from 1846], walking wounded [from 1917], walking bass and walking stick does not cover this compound.

A Google 2-gram shows few examples before 1850, including false positives such as ' ... was induced to jump off before reaching station by an accompanying passenger, to economize walking distance' (ie to minimise the distance it was necessary to walk).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    May 23 at 21:44

1 Answer 1

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The earliest usage of the phrase walking distance is from 1781 according to OED:

The soil is so sandy and poor, that..there is scarce a shrub or a tree to be seen within any walking distance from the place.

J. Rickman Jrnl. Capt. Cook's Last Voy. Pacific 19

The phrase just indicates a short distance, close enough to reach by walking. However, the perception of walking distance might have changed in time (depending on the context). In older times, people were walking longer distances to go to a place and it was the norm. Nowadays, many people have a private car and the result of cars being so common has been that many people walk less.

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  • I suppose that, here, "walking distance" is "for a gentleman" and as opposed to "riding distance".
    – Greybeard
    May 23 at 19:40
  • @Greybeard As we are dealing here with the journal of Captain Cook - I think it unlikely that his ship The Endeavour was carrying anything such as a horse or a mule.
    – WS2
    May 23 at 19:59
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    @WS2 You might be astonished.
    – tchrist
    May 23 at 21:51
  • @tchrist I stand corrected. I knew he had goats and sheep etc and have been to the place where he landed in Botany Bay, but I must have forgotten that there was a horse - the one that evidently arrived in New Zealand.
    – WS2
    May 24 at 5:59

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