I had to have some body work done on my car, a Honda Civic Hybrid, and I needed a rental for the duration. A friendly woman from Enterprise Rent-A-Car picked me up at the body shop. We had this conversation en route to the rental office:
Me: Can I rent a hybrid?
She: Oh, yeah. We have lots of hybrids. But not full hybrids.
Me: [silent, puzzled]
She: You know, they still need gas.
Me: [not sure I heard correctly] But … isn’t that what a hybrid car is? Gas and electric?
She: I mean, they’re hybrid but not completely electric.
I pondered this for the remainder of the drive. I thought at first that my driver simply didn’t know that “hybrid” means “a combination of two things.” (The word originally meant “mongrel.”) That she had some other definition in her head.
After I got back home I did a little research and learned that there are, in fact, full hybrids and mild hybrids. A full hybrid—the Toyota Prius, for instance—can run on just the (gasoline) engine, just the (electric) battery, or both. A mild hybrid, like my Civic, can’t run on battery power alone; it needs both power sources.
Maybe, I thought, it was “full hybrid” that had confused Ms. Enterprise.
Enterprise does rent Priuses, and they are indeed full hybrids—meaning they run on gas and/or battery power. Enterprise does not rent plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) like the Nissan Leaf or the Tesla, which are not hybrids at all: they run on battery power alone.
I thought about Ms. Enterprise, who looked young enough to have spent her entire driving life in the world of hybrid vehicles. (The Prius was introduced in the U.S. in 2000, the Civic Hybrid in 2001.) I wondered whether for her, and maybe for a whole cohort of younger drivers, “hybrid” had lost its original “combination-of-two-things” meaning and now signifies “less than 100 percent gas-powered.” Or, perhaps, just “nontraditional in some nonspecific way.”
Of course, a sample size of one isn’t much to go on, and I may be over-extrapolating. Let me know if you have additional data.
Meanwhile, at the Enterprise office, I encountered another not-quite-right expression.
“We will be CLOSED on MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 2nd in observation of the Labor Day holiday.”
Yes, you “observe” a holiday like Labor Day, but the noun that’s wanted here is observance, not observation. Observation is a synonym for “perception”; observance means “the act or custom of celebrating a holiday.” (Mighty Red Pen wrote a nice explanation a few years back.)
And does anyone say “Happy holiday!!” in connection with Labor Day? Not in my experience.