Countdown's Susie Dent says the term 'petrolhead' is dying out
24th May 2022

End of the road for car-speak? Petrolheads could soon be lost for words as move to electric vehicles may see phrases such as clutch, gears, and ‘take your foot off the gas’ disappear, says linguist Susie Dent

  • Motoring terms such as ‘petrolhead’ and ‘full throttle’ could be gone in 10 years
  • Wordsmith Susie Dent said the growth of electric cars will see language change
  • Terms such as ‘clutch’  and ‘running on fumes’ will also leave the lexicon 
  • Instead, they’ll be replaced by terms such as ‘anxiety range’ will take their place 

If petrolheads thought the main threat to their full-throttle existence was low-traffic neighbourhoods and green taxes, they may have to think again.

For someone in an unlikely corner – Dictionary Corner, to be precise – has sounded the death knell for their kind and a host of other motoring terms.

Countdown’s Susie Dent has predicted that words and phrases such as clutch, gears, ‘miles per gallon’ and ‘take your foot off the gas’ will disappear from our vocabulary in the next ten years amid an electric vehicle revolution.

She said we will no longer say ‘there’s nothing left in the tank’, ‘gas guzzler’ or even petrol station because we will charge our cars at home and refer to their power as ‘juice’. Instead we will become familiar with terms such as ‘froot’, a boot in the front, and ‘regen’, short for regenerative braking, when a battery is charged as a result of a car stopping.

Countdown’s Susie Dent, pictured, has made a prediction about a number of motoring terms will leave common usage due to the switch to electric cars

The move to electric cars will see the end of engines such as this V-12 power unit fitted in the Ferrari 488 GTB, pictured

Miss Dent, who worked with online car retailer Cinch on the motoring terms set to become extinct by 2032, said: ‘The language of the electric car will become as familiar to us as the vocabulary of the motor car did at the turn of the 20th Century.’

More and more Britons have switched to electric cars and by 2030 the switch will increase significantly as the UK government will ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars.

She claimed we will regularly call our car’s power ‘juice’ and we will be well acquainted with acronyms like ‘BEV’ (Battery Electric Vehicle) and PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle).

‘Frunk’ (front trunk) or ‘froot’ (front boot) is used to describe the added space under the bonnet of an EV for storage, while ‘regen’ is short for regenerative braking, which is when energy is transferred back into the battery as a result of braking.

Miss Dent said: ‘Are you a true “petrolhead” who lives life “at full throttle”?

‘If so, you might feel your lexicon shrinking a little as electric cars come to the fore.

‘”Miles per gallon”, the “clutch”, and “gears” will all eventually become terms of the past.

‘We may no longer be “filling up” at a “petrol station”, nor be “running on empty” or “on fumes” when there is “nothing left in the tank”.’

Miss Dent added some words will be hard to shake off immediately.

She said: ‘Of course, it might take our language a while to catch up, and many expressions based on old technology still survive.’

She added: ‘What is certain is that the language of the electric car will become as familiar to us as the vocabulary of the “motor car” did at the turn of the 20th century.

‘Within a decade we will be happily comparing the capacity of the “froot” on a new “BEV” or “PHEV”, or trying to keep a lid on our “range anxiety”.

‘We will be regularly “juicing’ our battery – perhaps with just a ‘trickle” – whilst hopefully avoiding all recriminations of “charge-hogging” from our neighbours.

‘All of this should be celebrated as part of the natural and constant evolution of our language.

‘English will always twist and turn as we need it to, even as it holds onto the footprints of the past.’

Abhishek Sampat, Head of EVs at Cinch, added: ‘We have already been seeing our EV customers gradually using and becoming more familiar with these new words, so it has been fascinating to work with Susie on collating these vocabulary lists.

‘Drivers might be surprised to learn that common sayings like ‘take your foot off the gas’ are in fact petrol-related.’

Meanwhile, speed limit signs could disappear from roads if a trial by Ford that automatically slows down cars is successful. The technology uses geofencing, a virtual boundary that can stop internet-connected vehicles from going too fast in a certain area.

A warning appears on the dashboard when a car is about to slow down but motorists can manually override the command if necessary.

Ford, which is testing the scheme in Germany, said it would declutter roads and help motorists avoid speeding fines.

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