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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally

Last year, I was surprised to discover that "inside lane" and "outside lane" have opposite meanings in the U.S. and U.K. In the U.S., "inside lane" means the lane closest to the center of the highway, in other words the fast or passing lane, while "outside lane" is used in that same meaning in the U.K.

Citations I found supporting this:
The inside lane is for passing, or, if necessary, higher-speed traffic. Contrariwise, the outside lane is for slower traffic. If people are passing you on the outside, either increase your speed, or get over to the outside. In many states, it is in fact illegal to pass on the outside -- but in many of them, it is illegal to create a situation in which people have to. (U.S.)

"Inside lane" means the left lane if your country drives on the right (as in the USA), and the right lane if your country drives on the left (as in England). "Outside lane", of course, means the opposite. You can think of these as "fast lane" and "slow lane" respectively.... (U.S.)

In the United Kingdom we already have a system where you are only allowed to pass other cars on the outside (the right in our case). (U.K.)

Mr. MacKay : When my right hon. Friend revises the highway code, will he carefully consider whether motorway driving could be improved if it is emphasised to drivers that they should drive in the inside lane and that the middle and outside lanes are purely overtaking lanes, and that rear fog lights are supposed to be on when there is fog and not at other times, when they cause great danger and pile-ups? (U.K.)
I can't find any American dictionaries that confirm the American meaning. The British meaning is confirmed by the New Oxford Dictionary of English:
the lane or part of a road furthest from the centre
When I raised this item on the Honyaku mailing list, a correspondent pointed out that other terms used in Britain to refer to the left and right lanes, respectively, are "nearside" and "offside":
Mr. Greg Knight : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport why the road surface markings and signs relating thereto on the southbound carriageway of the M1 north of junction 4 on the stretch of four-lane motorway were (a) initially altered to show the use of an additional offside lane for fast moving vehicles and (b) altered again to show instead the use of an additional nearside lane for slow moving vehicles. (U.K.)

Avoid 'hogging' the offside lane -- once your overtake is complete check your mirror and ease back to the nearside lane without cutting in. (Ireland)
(June 8, 2003)