Deferring to Americans on the Train

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The French are far more concerned about the Anglification of their language than the British are about the Americanization of theirs.

In Britain, we allow ourselves to adopt American ``speechisms'' with few apparent qualms, and often without even noticing....

I mean, ``on TV'' has by now completely replaced ``on the tele,'' and ``radio'' long ago ousted ``wireless.'' Some die-hards still call road-haulage vehicles ``lorries,'' but I suspect we are beginning to feel this sounds rather silly, and that we should really call them ``trucks.''

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It must be added, however, that we still insist on ``bonnet'' for ``hood'' and ``boot'' for ``trunk'' when it comes to the front and rear ends of the car, which we never call an auto.

The specific prompting for these musings came from a note in a rather old ``English Usage'' volume. Its author claimed that Americans ride ``on a train'' while the British (whom only Americans call ``Brits,'' by the way) ride ``in a train.''

Well, I never knew that. As long as I can recall, I have gone on a train.

But if the difference did once exist, I wonder if the British did not just yield the point unwittingly on the grounds that being on a train is rather more exhilarating than being in one. Somehow it suggests the dynamics of the experience more vividly - as if one might even be like some hero in a silent movie (we used to call them ``films'' or ``the pictures,'' but they, too, are dying words) - a desperate hero seeking sanctuary on the roof of some relentless express.

As a child, I longed to take a train ride. I begged and pestered. But when at last the adults succumbed, and I was perched on the edge of a seat in a train compartment, I burst into tears (I am told).

``But why?'' asked my baffled elders.

And when my sobs subsided sufficiently to make speech possible, I said: ``But where is the train? I can't (sob) see (gulp) the train!''

Which only goes to show how much better it would have been if I had been born American. I would not have been ``in'' a train, I would have been ``on'' it. And I would have known I was on it. Language is experience; it isn't just words.

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