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When is a door not a door? When it's ajar

Did you own a talking car in the 1980s?

The Chrysler New Yorker was one of a handful of models in the mid-80s to feature an electronic voice alert system.

We're guessing it launched more than a few Knight Rider fantasies.

The car would remind you to fasten your seatbelt or to replenish your wiper fluid. It would let you know if your lights were on or if your engine was overheating. All in a robotic monotone.

It would also let you know that "a door is ajar." Given the car's slow-paced voice, it sounded like it was trying to convince you its doors were suitable for storing stewed tomatoes.

We hope you sold it before it became sentient and tried to take over the world.

Talking cars aside, "ajar" is a peculiar word. 

Its origin doesn't actually have anything to do with jars. In fact, it starts out in the 16th century as "on char," which means "on the return" of something, like a door.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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