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It's no moving van – it's a mobility service truck

The Monitor's language columnist sees mobility everywhere and hopes to see it back on an upward track soon.

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As I looked out my window down to the street the other Saturday morning, I couldn't help noticing that I couldn't in fact see very much of the street, because of a large vehicle parked out front.

It must be moving day for somebody, I thought. But the lettering on the truck identified it as part of a certain well-known company's "mobility service."

Hmm, whatever happened to "van lines"?

Van lines is alive and well, thank you, and still apparently the more common term for, well, the people who provide the big trucks that take over the whole street for a day at a time. But mobility is hot, too. It's one of those words that seem to be everywhere, but with several different distinct but related sets of usages. All of them have roughly similar importance, so that any of them are likely to pop up in the first page of results of a random Google search.

Mobility is essentially the ability to move or be moved. It's a quality much desired in computing. Everyone wants to be "untethered" – not tied down to a specific location. I would have guessed mobile computing and telephony to be the usages that the search algorithms deem most "relevant." But mobility for the disabled is a big field, too. Mobility shows up in discussions of scooters, wheelchairs, and all sorts of related devices.

The logistics industry uses mobility as an umbrella term to cover all manner of stuff in motion – trucking, shipping, aviation, transport, vehicle rental, and the like. That's how a "mobility service" vehicle ended up parked at my front door the other day.

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