It's one of the conundrums of the English language — parkway and driveway don’t quite make sense, but we understand and use them all the same. We can thank comedian George Carlin for pointing out this idiosyncratic language twist. Non-native English speakers might stumble over the distinction between these two words, but the confusion is easily cleared up.
Parkway is an Americanism that dates back to 1885, meaning “a broad thoroughfare with a dividing strip or side strips planted with grass, trees, etc.”
Driveway is another uniquely American term that can be traced back a few years earlier, to 1865. This means “a road, especially a private one, leading from a street or other thoroughfare to a building, house, garage, etc.”
The origin dates of these words give a clue as to the confusing usage. Back in the 1800s, cars didn’t exist yet, so driving and parking a car weren’t even in the picture. Instead, parking was related to the other definition of park — a green space with trees, flowers and other greenery. Hence, the definition of parkway evolved over the years (including following the invention of the automobile) into a scenic road lined with trees and grass.
Historian Kirk Savage traced the evolution of the parkway in his book, “Monument Wars.”
“In the nineteenth century, to park meant to plant a tree or spread a patch of turf or flowers–to create a little patch of parkland. In Washington, the Parking Commission was a group of respected horticulturalists who supervised street-tree planting. On the city’s wide streets, parking places typically referred to strips of grass, flowers, or trees planted alongside the pavement, or in the larger squares or circles. These strips of parking not only cooled the streets but made them more manageable by reducing their great width and the amount of paving they required. By the turn of the century, such parking areas were sometimes used to hold horse-drawn carriages on special occasions; these were temporary intrusions that did not threaten the parkland itself. When automobiles started to overrun cities in the early twentieth century, parking areas were given over to car storage and the word began to refer to the cars themselves rather than the trees and grass they were replacing.”
Driveways have been around a bit longer, with a more stable meaning, but they used to be relevant to vehicles of the horse and buggy variety. When this word began to be used, driveways were longer paths one would drive down to the connect the private property to a public road. Nowadays, it’s usually just a short stretch of pavement connecting your house to the road, but the primary use is for, well, parking your car.