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Ask Chicagoist: “L” or El?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Jan 26, 2007 3:30PM

Hi Chicagoist,

Are our trains called the “L” or the el? “El” stands for “Elevated” — but what would “L” stand for?

Confused About the CTA

2007_01_askel.jpgDear Confused,

We guess it really depends on who you ask. There's really no doubt on what the CTA's stance is on the subject, and we suppose they would have final say in the matter. But that doesn't mean we don't think their convention is a little bizarre. And it also doesn't mean that people in Chicago don't have very personal and definite opinions as to what they think our venerable system of elevated trains should be called, CTA be damned.

According to the CTA it's absolutely called the 'L' (with the single quotation marks, specifically) and their website even says that's “short for 'elevated.'” So no, it doesn't stand for "Loop." In fact, 'L' is officially registered and trademarked by the CTA, so disputing that as the name is kind of like disputing the spelling of any other trademarked name. We think 'L' being short for “elevated” is a wee bit hokey, but fine, we guess they think they're clever and are creating a brand.

“L” (with double quotation marks) was used by the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, the predecessor to the CTA which operated from 1924 to 1947. Even further back, according to Chicago “L”.org, “L” was used before “the opening of the first line in 1892 and was quickly adopted by the press and public.” It's speculated that Chicago grabbed onto that spelling for its elevated trains in order to seem different from New York with their el trains — a quite plausible explanation, we think.

But the thing is, even if we have to concede that the absolute official name for our elevated trains is 'L,' we still think there's no actual problem with calling it the el. “El” is clearly short for “elevated” and referring to the train by a more generic term is certainly fine. It is an el, albeit a specific el called 'L.'

Image via smussyolay.

Fighting over semantics? Need some advice? Email ask(at)chicagoist(dot)com.