cane x walking stick [AE / BE]

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ralife

Senior Member
Portuguese
Hello, all.

I'd like to know if there is any difference between a cane and a walking stick. I am translating a text into English, and I wonder whether they are synonims, or if they are most widely used in a specific country.

Thank you!
 
  • JustKate

    Senior Member
    It would help if you tell us what text this is, Ralife, and a little bit of context. Cane and walking stick can be synonymous but they are not synonymous in all uses, at least not in AmE.
     
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    ralife

    Senior Member
    Portuguese
    Thank you, JustKate

    The sentence in English would sound something like this:

    "Arthur was a middle aged man, refined and sophisticated. He wore a walking stick whenever he left home".


     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    He wouldn't wear a walking stick, but in your sentence it should be bore. The normal word would be used or carried.

    A cane may look like a walking stick, but I think it is a somewhat old-fashioned term. It used to be used to describe a blind man's cane.
    Clearly the use of these terms will vary in different countries, but a stick is the norm in BE,
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    I think walking stick works better here, too. Cane can mean the same thing, but it is also the preferred word for a stick used out of necessity (such as by a blind person or by someone who has difficulty walking without help), and walking stick makes it clear that you mean the decorative sort used by a debonair, dashing, man-about-town. :)

    And I'd say carried a walking stick, by the way. There's nothing wrong with used, but carried is more descriptive, or so it seems to me.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    And I'd say carried a walking stick, by the way. There's nothing wrong with used, but carried is more descriptive, or so it seems to me.
    :tick: Indeed.

    Ralife's problem here is that in Portuguese, as in Spanish, the same verb is used for both wearing clothes and carrying something.

    This is a good example of the dangers in relying on bilingual dictionaries without checking the definition of the target word in a native (in this case, English-only) dictionary.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    For me (BE), a walking stick is an aid to walking. It is usually more sturdy than a cane so as to take the person's weight. The main use of a cane in Britain was as an instrument of punishment. In days gone by a naughty child might be caned by a teacher.

    I agree about Fred Astaire!
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    To me, a cane is what Fred Astaire used to dance with.



    A walking stick is used by people unsteady on their feet.
    The other way round, for me - a cane is used to assist with walking, while a stick is carried to make one look stylish.
     
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    JustKate

    Senior Member
    Wow - so it's exactly the opposite (at least of how I use the word). How very interesting.

    But now wait a minute...Here's a quote from P.G. Wodehouse's story, "Jeeves and the Uninvited Guest": "She talked about the poor blighter as if he wasn't there. Not that Motty seemed to mind. He had stopped chewing his walking-stick and was sitting there with his mouth open. 'He is a vegetarian and a teetotaller and is devoted to reading. Give him a nice book and he will be quite contented.'"

    And this from Dorothy Sayers' Clouds of Witness: "Mr. Bunter groped towards the voice, feeling cautiously before him with his walking-stick."

    Maybe this usage has changed in recent years, but at times walking stick has apparently been used in BE for the more decorative sort of cane.

    Edit: Oh and here's one more from Sayers, just because it actually quotes Lord Peter. It's from Whose Body: “I wish to God I’d never let you grow into a privileged family retainer, Bunter,” said Lord Peter, bitterly, dashing his walking-stick into the umbrella-stand. “You’ve no conception of the mistakes my mother may be making.”

    (Cross-posted with RM1)
     
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    vivace160

    Member
    American English
    To me, there are two types of walking sticks. There's the one JustKate described, which I would consider a decorative walking stick (though I would just call it a walking stick). It's used while walking, but the purpose of it is more for appearance than to provide any assistance while walking. A walking stick that is used for a purpose other than decoration would be used by able-bodied people to help keep their balance (among other uses) during activities such as hiking. A cane is used by people who require assistance with walking due to old age, injury (such as a sprained ankle), impaired vision, etc.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Obviously it's yet another AE, BE difference.

    Here's my summary of BE usage (let's see if other BE forum members agree)

    person needing something to lean on while walking ---> walking stick

    blind person who needs to feel obstacles ---> cane

    old fashioned school punishment ---> cane

    Fred Astaire ---> cane

    and

    walking stick sturdy - cane lightweight and flexible
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    Obviously it's yet another AE, BE difference.

    Here's my summary of BE usage (let's see if other BE forum members agree)

    person needing something to lean on while walking ---> walking stick

    blind person who needs to feel obstacles ---> cane

    old fashioned school punishment ---> cane

    Fred Astaire ---> cane

    and

    walking stick sturdy - cane lightweight and flexible
    I would agree...except that what about the Sayers and Wodehouse quotes I found? And I found them pretty easily, too. Wodehouse, though definitely a BE speaker, of course, lived in America for a long time, which could explain any Americanisms he might have picked up, but Sayers is 100 percent BE, right?
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I would agree...except that what about the Sayers and Wodehouse quotes I found? And I found them pretty easily, too. Wodehouse, though definitely a BE speaker, of course, lived in America for a long time, which could explain any Americanisms he might have picked up, but Sayers is 100 percent BE, right?
    Well I just assumed they were talking about what I call a walking stick!

    Maybe the usage has changed ???
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    Well I just assumed they were talking about what I call a walking stick!

    Maybe the usage has changed ???
    Could be.

    But I was trying to think of a way to get something more definite than the usual "I think this" and "I think that" that we (or at least I) so often enjoy here on the WR forum. And then I thought, "What do medical supply companies call these things?"

    And the answer is that in the UK, they use both cane and walking stick - at least the two that I found did. I agree that this is not helpful, but there you go. In the US, everybody seemed to use cane.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Wordreference seems to be equivocal.

    cane

    • a flexible rod with which to administer a beating as a punishment, as to schoolboys
    • a slender rod, usually wooden and often ornamental, used for support when walking; walking stick
    http://www.wordreference.com/definition/cane
    I agree with the flexible and slender but I'm not sure how a slender ornamental rod helps with walking :confused:


    walking stick
    a stick or cane carried in the hand to assist walking
    http://www.wordreference.com/definition/walking stick
    I wonder why you would carry it rather than lean on it. :confused:

    Doesn't help much does it?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Very interesting! I looked up a medical supplies site here for walking aids and it looks confused! The ones that are shaped like a stick are just 'walking sticks', but then those that open out to four little legs at the base are called 'quad canes', and there are 'cane holders' too. (Perhaps they are using terms that the suppliers - who might be from anywhere - provided.)

    I think in general, walking stick is the term here - partly because the cane is still administered as punishment here. The rattan cane is easily obtainable.
     
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    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    There is clearly a BE/AE difference.
    I was watching House just now. Dr House put his walking stick in the elevator doors to stop them closing. The person in the elevator asked him to "move his cane out of the way."
     
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    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    What if the object in question was just lying on the table, or standing in the corner?

    If it was straight, like this, I'd call it a walking stick (or just a stick). If it had a handle on the end, like this or this, I'd call it a cane.

    This is definitely a walking stick.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    What if the object in question was just lying on the table, or standing in the corner?

    If it was straight, like this, I'd call it a walking stick (or just a stick). If it had a handle on the end, like this or this, I'd call it a cane.

    This is definitely a walking stick.
    I also think the opposite.

    By the way the insect is definitely called a stick insect. http://www.petsathome.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Info_10601_caring-for-your-stick-insect_-1_10551.
    So what would you call this object with a handle?

    As for the insect, per Wikipedia: The Phasmatodea (sometimes called Phasmida or Phasmatoptera) are an order of insects, whose members are variously known as stick insects (in Europe and Australasia), walking sticks or stick-bugs (in the United States and Canada),phasmids, ghost insects and leaf insects (generally the family Phylliidae).
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    Just to way in:a cane in my version of AE is usually used to aid in walking for a person who has difficulty walking without it. A walking stick is either stylish as mentioned or used by an able bodied person on rough terrain.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Paul's idea of "cane" and "walking stick" is exactly the same as mine. I find it fascinating that US and British usages are complete opposites. Like natkretep, I associate "cane" with "caning" (not from personal experience, thank goodness), and with a stick made of bamboo. A cane for walking suggests to me something flimsy and decorative. We also use canes in the garden, to train beans and tomatoes. They're definitely more slender than a walking stick.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    So what would you call this object with a handle?
    That is a candy cane - but that is because that is an American-derived confectionery, and therefore the name is also AmE-derived. OK, it's ultimately German, but it was popularised in the English-speaking world through the American version. Imagine that - we might otherwise be calling it a walking stick sweet! ;)
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    As an aside, the insubstantiality of a cane is demonstrated by the BE use of the word 'cane' by the blind and partially-sighted. They use the cane to feel their way around, not to support them. However, colloquially, this cane is known as a "white stick".
     

    vivace160

    Member
    American English
    As an aside, the insubstantiality of a cane is demonstrated by the BE use of the word 'cane' by the blind and partially-sighted. They use the cane to feel their way around, not to support them. However, colloquially, this cane is known as a "white stick".
    We call that a cane as well in AE (more specifically, a white cane), but we don't equate substantiality with canes. In AE a long, slender pole used to help a person walk safely when they are unable to without assistance due to old age or some type of impairment, whether they need to put weight on it or not, is called a cane (we also call the device one gets caned with a "cane", but English is full of words that have multiple meanings. Consider the very different definitions of "stool" ;)).
     
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