The Grammarphobia Blog

Why a “via”?

Q: I’ve always thought that “via” should mean by way of, and that it should be used only to describe a geographic route. But many people now use “via” to refer to the means of doing something. Is this usage correct?

A: Traditionally, “via” has meant by way of, as in “We drove to Pittsfield via Red Rock.” This usage dates from the 18th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and comes from the Latin word for road or way.

A newer usage, dating from 1930, is by means of, as in “We traveled from Chatham to Red Rock via bus.”

Many language experts discourage this second usage. Henry Fowler’s Modern English Usage considers it a vulgarism. But both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) now accept the second usage.

I find the newer usage a bit stiff. I’d prefer a simple preposition like “by” instead of “via”: “We traveled from Chatham to Red Rock by bus.” But it’s a matter of taste. Either word is viable.

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.