landline » LAN line

Classification: English – final d/t-deletion

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Barbara Wallraff (Atlantic Monthly "Word Court" column for September 2006)

Wallraff reports:

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.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2006/08/09 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Barbara Wallraff , 2006/08/09 at 6:02 pm

    Re “WAN line” in Word Court: Technology isn’t my field of expertise, but stuff I found on the Web seemed to support the idea that a phone line *could* be considered a wide-area-network line. (I mean, if the phone system isn’t a kind of wide-area network, what is it?) And I specifically pointed out that sentence in the column to the fact-checker, who asked people who should know. I’m not saying I’m right about “WAN line” — just that I made a serious effort to be.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Nik Worden , 2006/09/23 at 3:57 pm

    I have certainly heard cell phone users refer to a wired phone line as a “land line”, but I assumed that the use had been transferred from the world of radio communication. In the relatively phone-starved wilderness of the British Columbia and Southeast Alaska coasts, mariners communicate on VHF radios, and will commonly say things like “I’ll give your brother a call when I get to a landline”. This makes sense because contact with a wired phone line is infrequent, and because marine-band radio cannot be used for calls to shore facilities, with certain exceptions. The term originated before the advent of cell phones, but is still used because cell phone coverage is spotty in these remote areas.

    “Landline” is easier to say than “wired phone” or “Qwest phone” or any other variant I can think of, and, in light of the older use, more likely understood.

  3. 3

    Commentary by Tristan , 2006/10/01 at 6:47 pm

    I thought it was LAN-line for the longest time. Being something of a geek, it made more sense to me because I frequently contrast wireless networks and LANs, so the contrast between a wireless line would of course be a LAN-line.

  4. 4

    Commentary by anonymouse , 2006/10/19 at 6:57 am

    As far as I’m concerned, “landline” refers to a physical link, using copper or fiber. A radio link, mobile phone or satellite connection can also be used to transmit data or voice, but isn’t considered a land line.…

    “LAN line” sounds weird to me.

  5. 5

    Commentary by Ninly , 2006/10/26 at 2:01 pm

    To back up the radiocommunication claim above: Radio amateurs still frequently use “land line” to refer to private telephone conversations, as opposed to their conversations on the air (which anyone with an appropriately tuned receiver can listen to). Of course, that usage predates the commercial use (not to mention the contemporary ubiquity) of cellular telephony, and I haven’t quite figured out yet whether hams still say “land line” when they’re talking about their cellphones.

  6. 6

    Commentary by Jillian , 2006/11/20 at 3:25 am

    When I worked for Metro One (one of two carriers, in some areas we were named Cellular One. NYNEX was the other) in the 80’s, LANline was an acronym for “Land Assisted Network”. When a cell site was weak, the “land line” picked up the slack. This may sound strange today but most cell calls back then went to what has been now called a “landline”, a phone line hooked into a wall.

    LANline is correct; When explaining phones hooked into a wall. The term landline came from consumer ignorence. And is now widely seen as a social and techie norm.

  7. 7

    Commentary by Chris , 2006/12/15 at 9:52 pm

    I have a coworker that has LAN LINE in his signature. I think he’s a moron. He also thinks laptop is spelled LABTOP

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.