Deferring to Americans on the Train

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.''

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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Deferring to Americans on the Train
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today