Monday, July 17, 2006

Where did "train station" come from?

Why about 10 years ago did everyone in Britain stop saying "railway station" and start saying "train station"?

The following answers will not be accepted:
  • It is American. No it isn't: they say "railroad station" over there.
  • A bus station is where you catch a bus, so a train station is where you catch a train. This may be logical (though when did idiom have anything to do with logic?), but it was equally logical 20 or 40 years ago when we certainly did not say "train station". So this does not explain the change.
  • We have always said "train station". No we haven't: find me an example by a good writer from 20 years ago.
Any ideas?

Later. Google Ngram tends to support my belief that the dominance of "train station" is a recent phenomenon.

    18 comments:

    AndyT said...

    Well, I'm like so fed up with people inserting words like "so" and "like" in inappropriate places; it's just so not like good grammar - but then we get accused of being "grumpy old men". Just, so, like, accept that language is changing, dude.

    Joe Otten said...

    It's shorter.

    phil said...

    It's shorter, and so we fear that using the longer alternative makes us sound old-fashioned or "inaccessible".

    Roy said...

    Younger people in America do say "train station" (my wife is 28 and from Rhode Island and she says it). Personally the earliest I can remember hearing it was on "Neighbours" in the 80s sometime. I've always assumed that it must have entered British English from Aussie soaps but my wife, who is a sociolinguist, doesn't agree as they never had the Aussie soaps in the US but use it there too. Sociolinguists also tend to dispute the idea that peoples' language is influenced by TV: there's no real evidence of that apparently.

    wibwab said...

    I'm in the "we have always said " camp but I am Irish and we do have some odd ways in how we use English.

    However I refer you to "Finding Lost Space: Theories of Urban Design" by Roger Trancik, published in 1986. He uses train station throughout. You can check it in Google books.

    Bernie Hughes said...

    I'm in my early thirties and have said 'train station' since childhood. My parents use the same expression. I've never watched an Australian soap in my life.'Railway station' sounds a bit Agatha Christie to my ears (not a complaint). But then I'm from Scotland, so it may be a localism.

    Bill Diamond said...

    Speaking for the United States, I'd go with Answer #1. We do say "train station" more often than not over here. "Railroad station" is simply one syllable too many for Americans to say between sips of a Starbucks latte. Why everyone in Britain adopted it, however, is beyond me.

    But don't think it's all one way. I believe "over the top" came here from over there -- am I wrong? And what about "at the end of the day"? Yours, as well?

    sahra said...

    /joins the "we've always said it" camp. I'm 18, so still fairly young, but you *did* say 10 years and that's definitely not accurate in my case.

    Jonathan said...

    Thanks for all the theories. Further contributions will be gratefully received.

    Dr Maybe said...

    Had Jimi Hendrix "Hear My Train a Comin'" come up on a shuffled playlist last night - that uses the phrase "train station", and pre-dates Aussie soaps.

    Jonathan said...

    Whereas Paul Simon wrote:

    I'm sittin' in the railway station
    Got a ticket for my destination

    wibwab said...

    In support of your theory (that no good writer would have used it 20 years ago), I offer The Forth Protocol by Freddie Forsyth, published in 1985. He use train station and he is not a good writer.

    marcuse said...

    Who cares? It's the word diaper that we need to fight against....

    Dr Maybe said...

    Paul Simon was waiting for a train in Widnes when he wrote "Homeward Bound".

    dsquared said...

    They used to be stations owned by the railways (first, the railway companies and then British rail), but nowadays most stations are owned and operated by the train companies.

    Anonymous said...

    Because we don't kill everybody doesn't mean we're not here....
    CANADA

    Anonymous said...

    Google Ngram is your friend on questions like this.

    Jonathan said...

    Thanks. I discovered Google Ngram a while ago. And I was right!