Recently, I’ve noticed, while looking at my blog statistics (it’s very addictive), that someone has been getting here by searching for the word train. Sometimes, it’s quite obvious which posts search terms bring people to. Other times, it’s not so clear. At first I thought that it was bringing people to this post, somewhat related to trains. But then, not really related either. I was curious, so I checked what posts people had read the days someone had searched for train.

It turns out it brought them to this post, about the term gravy train. And then I thought that if they were really looking for some information about the word train, that post would’t really help them at all. And then, I began to think that train is actually quite an interesting word…

It first appeared in English in the 14th century, coming directly from the Old French train (tracks, path, trail, act of dragging), which can draw its origins back to the Latin verb trahere (to pull, draw). The earliest meaning of the word, appearing in the early 14th century actually meant a delay (as in drawing out time). By the late 14th century, the word came to be used to refer to the trailing part of a dress or skirt (e.g. a bridal train), or a procession or retinue.

You can see how the word came to be used in terms of rail transport. Not only are tracks involved, but pulling carriages is pretty crucial to the whole enterprise. Though of course, it’s worth remembering that the vehicle at the front with the engine is the locomotive, and the combination of locomotive and carriages is the train.

Of course we also use to train as a verb, as in to develop or attain new skills. This use was first recorded in the early 16th century, and is probably related to the earlier senses of train through the idea of drawing out or stretching someone’s talents, either to develop them, or bring them to light.

So there you have it. If you’ve been brought here by searching for the word train, hopefully you’re now suitably enlightened!


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