Pedestrian is a word born from opposition to other modes of travel; the Latin pedester, on foot, gained currency by its semantic tension with equester, on horse. But there is an implied—indeed, synonymous—pejorative. This dates from Ancient Greece. As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the Greek πεζός meant “prosaic, plain, commonplace, uninspired (sometimes contrasted with the winged flight of Pegasus).” Or, in the Latin, pedester could refer to foot soldiers (e.g, peons), “rather than cavalry.”
In other words, not to be on a horse, flying or otherwise, was to be utterly unremarkable and mundane. To this day, Ronkin was intimating, the word pedestrian bears not only that slightly alien whiff, but the scars of condescension. This became clear as we walked later that evening through the historic center of Savannah. As we moved through the squares, our rambling trajectory matched by our expansive conversation, we were simply people doing that most human of things, walking. But every once in a while, we would encounter a busy thoroughfare, and we became pedestrians. We lurked under ridiculously large retroreflective signs, built not at our scale, but to be seen by those moving at a distance and at speed. Other signs reinforced the message, starkly announcing: “Stop for Pedestrians.” I thought, “Wait, who’s a pedestrian? Is that me?”
Maybe it should be all of us . . . but there are clearly location choices off the beat of modern traffic intersections.