Italian Word of the Day: Pullman (coach / bus)

Pullman is one of my favourite words in Italian, not because it sounds particularly sweet to the ear, but because of its interesting history.

italian word pullman

Before we turn our attention to the Italian definition, let’s take a brief look at the original meaning associated with the term.

In America, pullman actually referred to a luxurious railway car, whereas in Europe, it was the name given to a railway dining car or lounge car. These cars were named after their American designer, George. M. Pullman, whose eponymous company built and operated them from 1867 until December 31, 1968.

In a number of European countries, the word pullman was also used for the first long electric tramcars whose appearance resembled the Pullman railway cars. Between the 1930s and 1950s,some especially luxurious motor coaches were occasionally called Auto-Pullmans.

Today the word persists in Italian (and in Greek), but rather than referring to a luxurious railway coach, it now denotes a large intercity bus, or coach, presumably because of the shared level of comfort provided by the two means of transport.

Prendo il pullman perché sono senza macchina.

I’m taking the coach bus because I don’t have a car.

tour bus parked outdoors
Un pullman – A coach / tour bus

And that’s just the strict definition found in the dictionary. Depending on where you go in Italy, pullman can also refer more generally to any autobus, including commuter buses used for public transport within a city. For example, in Turin, many people favour the word pullman over autobus or bus in informal conversation, despite autobus being the preferred term in writing and at an institutional level.

A che ora passa il pullman? – Alle otto e trentacinque. – Grazie!

What time does the bus arrive? – At 8:35. – Thank you!

Rear view of man waiting at bus stop
Alla fermata del pullman / dell’autobus = At the bus stop

Pullman is a masculine noun. As is the case with many foreign words in Italian, it does not change between singular and plural, so you must use the article to indicate the number.

il pullman
the coach

un pullman
a bus

i pullman
the coaches

dei pullman
(some) buses

Note: Pullman is sometimes mistakenly written with a single ‘l‘ (pulman).

Pulmino literally means ‘little pullman’ and it refers to a minibus. It is often used to refer to a school bus, which in Italy are smaller than the classic American yellow buses.

Non posso venire a prenderti domani. Dovrai tornare a casa con il pulmino della scuola.

I can’t come to pick you up tomorrow. You’ll have to come home on the school bus.

Some synonyms for pullman include:

  • corriera / autocorriera = an old-fashioned term for bus, still used by the older generation. It specifically refers to a bus that travels from one town to another.
  • torpedone = an old term for an open-top (open-air) bus. During the Fascist regime, it replaced the term pullman, when the abolition of foreign terms was decided in order to “purify” the Italian language.
  • autopullman = an old-fashioned way of saying pullman

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