Sunday, October 02, 2011

How "train station" supplanted "railway station"


Five years ago there was a debate on this blog over the way the term "train station" has replaced "railway station" in recent years.

One or two people argued that we have always said "train station", but thanks to the Google Books Ngram Viewer I can show that this is not the case.

The graph is striking and confirms my view that the change to "train station" happened very rapidly and very recently. I am still not certain why, but I suspect that rail privatisation had to a lot to do with it.

Study the graph closely and you will see that "railway station" has started to fight back. So there is hope after all.

12 comments:

Tim (Kalyr) said...

Yes, but does anyone know where "Train Station" actually came from, and why it started supplanting "Railway Station" which we'd been using for hundreds of years?

It's clearly not an Americanism, as they call them railroad stations.

Frank H Little said...

My guess is that it came from Glasgow.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

What makes you say that?

pete said...

'Gender' replacing 'sex' is very odd.

We never used to hear the word gender until the 1980s unless it was in Frnech or German lessons at school.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

That's just down to the changing social attitudes from 20 years before; a single word was no longer adequate for what had become two separate and distinct meanings.

Interesting that despite several attempts, gender-neutral pronouns have never caught on.

pete said...

There were two words with two meanings, then as now. What is curious is that some people have started to use one, gender, when the other, sex, is the correct one in the context.

For example, online application forms sometimes ask for gender. But what they want to know is what sex you are, as is indicated by the drop down alternatives available - male and female.

Male and female are the two sexes. The two genders are masculine and feminine.

dreamingspire said...

As Lynne Featherstone appears to have ensured will happen, intersex gender looks like being generally accepted as an assertion by some people as their legit status.

Jen said...

The two genders. The two sexes. And by follow-through in how that analysis of the world models things: the two skin tones, the only two heights a person can be, the two precise weights that humans are either one or the other of...

checks all this talk of faster than light thingywotsits doesn't mean time travel is here and we're not having this thread in the 19th century... no, no, we've moved on from there... so there's only one suitable word for that kind of piffle:

ROFLCOPTERS

Backwatersman said...

The OED records a usage of "train station" by William Gaddis (U.S. novelist) in 1951.

It also has this, from the New York Times Magazine in 1981 -

"When was the last time you heard a young rich-affluent-wealthy type use the phrase 'railroad station'? Upper class use now is train station".

Why this would have been so I don't know - perhaps "railroad" sounded olde-tymey and rural to a Young Urban Profesional?

David said...

Wikipedia has an interesting article on "train station" with some fine photographs including Lewes Station. It offers little help on the linguistic question other than the information that "railway station" was mainly a British Commonwealth usage. It also defines "Halt" as "a small railway station, usually unstaffed and with few or no facilities." Given the plans of South West trains, this part of the world will soon have neither train or railway stations but only halts.

David said...

For the gender buffs, it is interesting to note that in France and Italy stations are feminine (la gare, la stazione),in German masculine (der bahnhof) and in Russian also masculine (вокзал (vokzal)) which is supposedly derived from Vauxhall.

Dan Falchikov said...

David - the Russian word for station is based on Vauxhall. The story goes that a fact finding mission from Russia visited London to hear all about these new fangled railways. They were shown round Vauxhall station - I believe the then terminus of the L&SWR and asked 'what do you call this place'? and the answer was 'Vauxhall'. Which is why Russian for station is 'voksal'.