landline » LAN line
Analyzed or reported by:
- Barbara Wallraff (Atlantic Monthly "Word Court" column for September 2006)
Suzanne Staszak-Silva, of Scotch Plains, N.J., writes: “My husband and I have a dispute regarding the use of the term landline. When people receive or make calls on a cellular phone but decide they would like to take the call on a phone connected to the wall via a phone jack, they usually refer to this phone as a landline. My husband says this is incorrect and the right term is LAN (local-area network) line. I say he’s wrong. I think people use landline to denote a phone that is connected to the large brown poles that line our streets, and that LAN line refers to computer connections. Who is correct?”
You are. Anyone who doesn’t want to call a phone line a phone line ought to call it a WAN (wide-area network) line. And thanks for the new eggcorn.
This one is not easy to search for, because “LAN line” is a high-frequency expression, abbreviating “local area network line”, a line (telephone line or cable) serving a local area network; such connections involve lines only indirectly, usually wirelessly, rather than having computers directly plugged into a phone line.
As for Wallraff’s advice, anyone who wants to refer to a phone directly connected to a phone line should call it a landline phone. WAN lines are something else.
In any case, Staszak-Silva’s husband has improved on “landline”, with its unclear connection to land, by eggcorning it to “LAN line”, using a term he’s familiar with.