Is it Towers or Towers?

Smiling tower gives thumbs up

Towers: at Kars4Kids it’s not the place where Rapunzel let down her hair, and it’s not that leaning edifice in Pisa. At Kars4Kids, “towers” is pronounced with a long o, and it’s the word we use at Kars4Kids to describe the wonderful people who tow away our donors’ cars.

Sure, we know that tow truck operator is probably more correct, but why use SIX syllables, when you can use two? That being said, when we say “probably more correct” we need to correct that to: there is no such word as tower or towers with a long o. Period. You won’t find tower with a long o in any standard dictionary—we tried. It is not in the Oxford Dictionary. It is not in Merriam-Webster.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “tower” the noun, as:

1. a tall, narrow building, either freestanding or forming part of a building such as a church or castle

2. a tall structure that houses machinery, operators, etc.

Oxford also offers two definitions for “tower” the verb:
1. rise to or reach a great height

2. (of a bird) soar to a great height, especially (of a falcon) so as to be able to swoop down on the quarry.

leaning tower of Pisa

Clear, concise, and even somewhat poetic.

Is it a bird or a plane or . . . the Leaning Tower of Pisa? No. It’s a toe-er.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary, by comparison, is much more wordy—you might even say CRAZY wordy—offering fully four definitions for “tower” the noun, to Oxford’s two—and nope, not one of the four is pronounced with a long o. Also, none of them are the nice person who picks up your car.

As Merriam-Webster would have it, tower (the noun) is:

  1. A building or structure typically higher than its diameter and high relative to its surroundings that may stand apart (such as a campanile) or be attached (such as a church belfry) to a larger structure and that may be fully walled in or of skeleton framework (such as an observation or transmission tower).
  2. A towering citadel: FORTRESS
  3. One that provides support or protection: BULWARK
  4. A personal computer case that stands in an upright position

Does Merriam-Webster’s verb form of the word “tower” hint at the existence of someone who puts your car on a tow truck and takes it away? Not a chance. In the verb form (also not with long o), “tower” means: “To reach or rise to a great height or to exhibit superior qualities: SURPASS.”

Note that both of these well-respected dictionaries offer only a single pronunciation for the word. Oxford has it as taʊər, while Merriam-Webster has it as tau̇(-ə)r, but no matter which pronunciation key you use, the end result is identical: they are both pronounced exactly the same way. Tower, short o.

Which leaves us with a predicament: should we just accept that the word tower—in the sense that we use it at Kars4Kids—does not exist? What then, would be the alternative? What should we call these nice, polite people in our Kars4Kids network who pick up your car with such skill and sensitivity?*

internet thread: the people who tow

Well, funny you should ask. Well, actually we did. Ask, that is. Because after all, GIYF. And as it happens “Google is your friend” found us the most MARVELOUS thread on the subject of—you guessed it—TOWER. (And with a long o, yet!)

The thread, oddly enough called “the people who tow,” dates back to 2011. It begins with a question by 22caps (emphasis added):

I know there’s a specialized word for this, but I can’t find it. What do you call the people who tow cars away? It can’t be towers, because that’s a tall structure. Thanks!

AHA! SO! Kars4Kids is not the ONLY one to wonder about the word.

Tow Truck Operator??

JamesM responds (emphasis added):

You call a towtruck to tow a car away. The people can be called “towers” but it’s pronounced in that context like “toe-ers”, not like the tall structure. (I can’t find a dictionary entry to support this.)

I would call the person who drives a towtruck a towtruck operator or a towtruck driver. The company is usually calling a towing company.

Here, feetsby of Nottingham inserts:

Wow! We’ve just been having the same conversation at work.

Some suggestions:

Towmeister, towtisan, towsman, towperson, towster, towcrafter, towmage … this list is endless!

Plus the first four words have not been marked up with the squiggly red line of misspelling, so they must be real surely?

The Last Word

JamesM has the last word (two years later):

I think the problem is that the person doesn’t actually tow anything by hand, just like a person who drives a cement mixer doesn’t mix the cement by hand. It sounds odd to refer to him by the job his vehicle does.

I wouldn’t use auto-correct as a guide to which words are correct. “Towsman” appears to apply only to sailors, for example. I can’t find any definition for towmeister or towtisan.

Thinking about this for a while, though, I do remember hearing “tow man” when I was young. Each word had the same emphasis and the “a” in man was a short “a”. (“Towman” does appear in some unabridged dictionaries.)

So where do we, Kars4Kids, land on this? Do we, chastened, find a term more acceptable to Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and all the rest of the masters of the English language? Invent a new word, ala feetsby of Nottingham?

We’ve thought about it. As an organization concerned with mentoring, we toyed with the idea of calling the towing person a “towor” and the donor, the “towee.”

But no. AWKWARD. And: still not in the dictionary. Besides, why invent a new word when we already have a perfectly good invented word: Tower, long o. Duh. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We’re Trailblazers

Well, look. Kars4Kids has always been a trailblazer. Our towers, long o or not, have been towing away your cars since 1995. In all that time, towers, pronounced “toe-ers” has been working just fine for us, and of course our towers, long o, have been working just fine for YOU for almost three decades.

So Oxford and Merriam-Webster notwithstanding, we see no reason to change.

Towers, long o, it is.

That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

* Yes, sensitive. Our “toe-ers” understand that it’s hard to say goodbye to your car, and it shows. They are kind, caring, and sensitive, as any of our donors will tell you.

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