Jonathan Franzen Joins the “Rollerboard” Chorus.

The author’s roll-aboard stands stoically in a hotel room,
patiently awaiting its next journey.


February 19, 2020

SON OF A BITCH. Here we go again with “rollerboard,” that odious, etymologically crippled term for wheeled luggage.

Originally I blamed the novelist Gary Shteyngart for mainstreaming this dismal word, scattering it throughout the opening pages of his latest book, Lake Success. Now, in a truly distressing blow, I discover that Jonathan Franzen — Jonathan Franzen! — is perhaps equally responsible. The word appears multiple times in “Missing,” one of the essays in Franzen’s 2018 collection, The End of the End of the Earth.

The End is a heartbreaking enough book to start with. The author and I share a love of birds (the feathered kind if not the metal ones) and I was having a tough time getting through his sober chronicle of all the depraved things humans are doing to ensure their destruction. To then stumble across “rollerboard” made it all a bit much. I had the same reaction as I did reading Lake Success, which was to fling the book in a corner and go pout.

Both books were published in the fall of 2018, which clearly points to a conspiracy of some kind. And both of my favorite authors having helped to normalize this lazy bastardization is something I take personally. I feel betrayed!

Of course, it seems pretty likely that “rollerboard” was accepted usage before Franzen or Shteyngart ran with it. It’s tough to imagine two authors of such eminence getting a non-word past their editors and fact-checkers. When and how the term entered the lexicon I can’t say for sure. If I weren’t so exasperated and afraid of what I might find, I’d look it up.

The problem is that “rollerboard” (sometimes presented as “roller board”) is a misconstruction. It’s a mis-hearing of the term “roll-aboard.” This is wheeled luggage we’re talking about. You roll it aboard. “Roll-aboard” (or “rollaboard”) makes sense not only logically and grammatically, but has a pretty sound to it as well. “Rollerboard” is something unrelated, that in no way evokes or describes luggage. A board with wheels on it? I picture a plank, or a surfboard, with wheels like roller skates.

Yes I know, this is the evolution of language. Our conversations, you’ll point out, are jammed with words that have come into general use through laziness or distortion. “Rollerboard,” meanwhile, has just enough of the right sound and meaning to be plausible, sort of.

I sense defeat. And there are, I suppose, worse words to pick on.

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17 Responses to “Jonathan Franzen Joins the “Rollerboard” Chorus.”
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  1. W dzisiejszych czasach Obecnie handel sprzedaż transakcja zakupowa Jest czynnością prostszą łatwiejszą sprawniejszą dostępniejszą niż kiedykolwiek wcześniej w dobie bez internetu. Możliwość Sposobność prowadzenia handlu sprzedaży sklepu przez internet otwiera poszerza horyzonty granice i pozwala na wykonywanie zagranicznych transakcji sprzedaży zagranicznej działań na światową skalę. Przesyłki do Rumunii Paczki kurierskie do Rumunii Przesyłanie zakupionych przedmiotów do Rumunii to kolejny krok stopień szczebel w rozwoju modernizacji ulepszaniu sklepu internetowego handlu internetowego. Dzięki nam Z naszą pomocą Dzięki naszemu wsparciu Z naszymi możliwościami możesz z łatwością łatwo i szybko bez trudu bez kłopotu wprowadzić takie przesyłki do swojej oferty sklepu internetowego handlu internetowego. Zobacz Spójrz Patrz jakie to proste łatwe szybkie
    Przesyłki do Rumunii Paczki do Rumunii Kurier do Rumunii Przesyłki kurierskie do Rumunii Nadawanie paczek kurierskich do Rumunii

    umacnia ulepsza usprawnia prowadzenie sklepu internetowego handlu internetowego. Oferujemy Proponujemy kompleksową najlepszą ogólnie dostępną pomoc w prowadzeniu sklepu internetowego z paczkami do Rumunii sprzedaży towaru ze sklepu internetowego d

  2. Craig says:

    Reminds me of the phrase “couldn’t care less” most now say “could” instead. Means nothing at all when you drop the t.

  3. I gave up wheels when I realized how much weight and space they take. Instead I use a backpack for my portable office, and an over-the-shoulder bag hanging from my frontside for my clothes and toiletries. No more wheels! ( brain bag and full-size aeronaut)

  4. Chaz says:

    When I first regularly started flying domestically in the States about nine years ago (after having spent the previous 13 years in Asia an expat), I would hear announcements regarding “rollerboards” and wondered to myself “WTF??? Are there THAT many people flying with their skateboards these days??”

    I think I’m as annoyed by it all as you are.

  5. Dave says:

    Roller board could describe what mechanics call a “creeper”, a board (now a little fancier) with wheels they lay on to slide underneath a car to make repairs when it’s not up on a hoist or lift.

  6. Alastair says:

    I call it a rolly (row-ley) bag

  7. Jeffrey says:

    By the way the reason people heard “rollerboard” even if gate staff were saying “roll-aboard” is that it’s not a word the mind recognizes but sounds a lot like two words that it does, “rollerblade” and “skateboard”, so it goes directly to thinking it’s a combination of those two.

  8. Susan Cox says:

    I’ve heard the word, but never qualify attention to it. When I read your post I could of gagged.

  9. Jeff says:

    Not nearly as offensive as calling those boards WITH WHEELS hover boards.

  10. Jeffrey says:

    I heard gate staff saying what I thought was “rollerboard” multiple times before I’d ever read it anywhere in any form, and I found it annoying because as you point out it makes so little sense. Were they referring to a board at the bottom of the luggage? How did this name come about?

    It was only in a column of yours that I learned that they were saying roll aboard, at least originally.

    Unlike you however I find calling it a “roll aboard” about as awful a name as rollerboard, like calling a portable boarding stairway a “climb aboard”, or flat escalator a “slide along”. A “wheeled carry-on” would have been fine. Even if you wheel it in you do have to carry it at some point to stow it, usually.

    So I think it is a natural mishearing, but if no one had come up with the overly-cute and awful (IMO) name that wouldn’t have happened, so I know where I lay the blame.

  11. Tb says:

    Agree with lose and loose. I see that all too often. People also seem to be unable to tell the difference between advice and advise.

    Oh well. I suppose it’s just a matter of ceramics.

  12. Eric in NH says:

    “Rollerboard” appears to be a classic example of an eggcorn: in most US English dialects that phrase sounds enough like “roll aboard” to be a substitution.

    That said, one of the downsides of the internet era is the decline in writing skill, at least in US English. Just as one example, I see too many people who should know better write “loose” in place of “lose”. That is a battle we are losing, but definitely not loosing.

  13. All I can think about when I see the newer versions of rolling luggage, the ones with newer wheels that turn 360 degrees…is the type of wrist injuries people will get from holding the luggage out to the side or in front of themselves at such an awkward angle.

    As for rolling them aboard, I never carry on luggage. I’m too short to reach the overhead bins comfortably and I would never ask someone to do it for me. (if you can’t sling it, don’t bring it, I say…) I always check my bags. Besides, I want to relax during layovers, not “lug” my bags around behind me. Airlines have it backwards. If they want to be more efficient loading the aircraft, they need to charge for carry-on and let folks have free checked baggage.

  14. Alan says:

    I agree “rollerboard” doesn’t pass mustard, but for all intensive purposes I’m afraid it’s here to stay.

  15. Robert F says:

    Well this is embarrassing. I have roughly 2M miles flown on various airlines and I’ve heard FAs mention “rollerboards” scores of times. I always knew it didn’t apply to me; figured it was one of those fold-up hand carts that must be a bitch to put into the overhead. Really glad I’ve never had a rollerboard. Except that I’ve been using one for 20+ years.

    Sure, language is ever-changing. But it is depressing when the change is unquestionably dumb. On a happier note, I think my favorite new word is “extra” which I overheard at lunch about a year ago. Two young women, both teachers, were discussing the behavior of a common student: “Why does he do that? That’s so extra!”

    You ever listen to “The Allusionist” podcast? Informative and witty; pretty sure you’d enjoy it.

  16. Craig says:

    Did a bit of googling on this.

    Apparently this started as the “Rollaboard” – a trademarked name for luggage that was designed to do exactly what you say it does – a carry-on with wheels. But also apparently very early on the trademarked name became “rollerboard” when referred to generically. This might have been – in fact likely was – done by the luggage industry to avoid infringing on the trademark.

    See this news item from USA Today in 2003: