The way we talk now

Going Somewhere?

How everything became a journey.

Nancy Friedman
5 min readJul 12, 2023

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By Clemens van Lay for Unsplash

Never have so many traveled so much — metaphorically speaking — in pursuit of so many goals.

Do you want to lose a few pounds? Diets are passé; you’re on a weight-loss journey. Getting in shape? That’s a fitness journey. Expecting a baby? Welcome to your pregnancy journey. Need new clothes? Take a style journey. Undergoing cancer treatment? Yep, that’s a journey too.

A religious awakening is a faith journey. A career in cheerleading is a cheer journey. (There even are cheer journals to document the cheer journey.) Software developers talk about the user journey; salespeople refer to the customer journey from awareness to engagement to purchase.

In this trippy world even a construction zone can be a journey.

“An amazing journey:” Sign at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Oakland, 2016. Photo by Nancy Friedman.

How pervasive is journey? Since its modest debut in the 1980s, it has been an increasingly popular choice as a baby name. (Check it out in the Namerology NameGrapher.) In 2022, according to U.S. Social Security Administration data, Journey ranked #315 among newborn girls’ names — and an alternate spelling, Journee, ranked #195, ahead of Vanessa, Ariel, Lila, and Elise. There are baby-boy Journeys, too.

We didn’t always talk this way. It’s been only in the last 40 or so years that journey has become one of our culture’s dominant metaphors, a convenient stand-in for experience, ordeal, process, test, investigation, story, and series of events.

The word journey is not itself new, of course. It entered English in the 13th century from Old French journee, which meant both a single day — jour in modern French — and a single day’s travels on land (as opposed to voyage, which takes place on water).

The metaphorical sense of journey — what the OED defines as “the ‘pilgrimage’ or passage through life” — is also old. The dictionary’s earliest citation for this sense of journey is from around 1225, in a guidebook for nuns: “The pilgrim in the world’s way … many things may hinder him on his journey.” English translations of the Bible use journey

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.