Why people who say “train station” sound stupid

Google Ngram "railway station" all English: click to embiggenI cringe when people talk about the “train station”. “It’s ‘railway station’, you morons,” screams my brain. Well as it turns out, they’re actually not stupid — at least not for that reason. It’s just another relatively modern shift in language.

The chart at the top of the post is a Google Ngram search of their entire English corpus since 1820 — the first public steam railway in the world was the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825 — comparing the usage of “railway station” (blue) versus “railroad station” (red) and “train station” (orange).

You can click through to the full-size chart, or run the search yourself.

As you can see, the most common usage has almost always been “railway station”, with “railroad station” distinctly second-place. A “train station” wasn’t even a thing until the 1950s, but it rose in popularity quite quickly. “Train station” has been the most common usage since the mid-1990s, although it has been declining again since around 2000. I wonder why.

My understanding is that many railway terms derived from the military, because until the railways came along nothing else had been organised on that sort of trans-national and even trans-continental scale except armies. Hence trains have “guards” for their safe operation, and “stations” along the line where staff are stationed to maintain the entire railway system — including fuel, water, trackwork and signalling.

Railway stations are therefore part of a railway’s entire operation, not merely “train stations” for trains to stop at. For me, someone talking about “train stations” is showing their ignorance of how railways work: it’s more than just the trains.

Since I had the Google open in front of me, I thought I’d look at the variations in US versus UK English. It seems that “railroad station” isn’t the dominant American usage that I’d imagined.

Continue reading “Why people who say “train station” sound stupid”

Talking anti-piracy laws on SBS World News

I am so many different kinds of expert these days. On Friday I was on SBS TV’s World News talking about the UK’s High Court decision to order the country’s largest internet service provider BT to block access to a website that provides links to pirated movies.

The video of the news story is embedded in the website article.

SBS has also posted the complete 7-minute video of the interview they recorded.

Yes, I’m wearing a hoodie on national television. At least it was a clean hoodie. I’d taken a cab to SBS straight from the airport. It’s actually a small miracle I had any clean clothes with me at all. Besides, the cameraman chose the hoodie over my black shirt because he wanted to “break things up a bit”. The TV news has too many men in suits and business shirts for his liking, it seems.

Iain Dale on politics, Twitter, radio and authenticity

Earlier this evening I recorded this interview with Iain Dale, who’s keynoting the Microsoft Politics & Technology Forum in Canberra on 1 June. He’s one of the UK’s leading political bloggers, a former Conservative Party politician, publisher of Total Politics magazine and host of the evening show on London’s LBC Radio — amongst other things.

I’d originally intended to use a slab of this in the Patch Monday podcast I do for ZDNet Australia, but it’s not really about technology. Our conversation did touch upon the way political parties use social media such as blogs and Twitter — or, really, why they don’t. But we also covered the attraction of broadcast radio as medium and why it’ll survive, authenticity and much more. So I decided to post the entire recording here as a podcast.

I began by asking Dale about a piece he wrote for The Guardian earlier this month, Is this really the death of political blogging? It turns out the headline is misleading.

Play

For more on Iain Dale, read his Wikipedia entry or follow him on Twitter.

I’ve been thinking of doing a more podcasts of interviews along the lines of this one — not necessarily about politics or technology but whatever strikes my fancy. Indeed, I created the blog post category Conversations for this purpose, although so far I’ve only used it to post random audio I’ve been involved with. What do you think?

Mark Thomas on UK Digital Economy Bill

The movie and music industries have been lobbying governments globally to introduce so-called “three strikes” laws. Three accusations of online copyright infringement — “accusations”, mind you, not proof — and you lose your internet connection.

Copyright-holders reckon this will help prevent copyright infringement. But the concerns are that we’re entering the realm of guilt by allegation, and potentially punishing innocent people by denying internet access to everyone in a household, not just the guilty party.

The internet is now central to everything from health and education to banking and politics, so that’s one heck of a big stick.

As this 10-minute video by comedian and activist Mark Thomas explains, the UK version of this proposed law, the Digital Economy Bill, has a nasty surprise. Section 17 would give the Secretary of State the power to amend the copyright laws without having to run them past Parliament first.

Um hello? “Parliamentary democracy”, anyone?

If the embedded player doesn’t work, you can watch the video on YouTube.

At this stage, the Australian Government is not yet considering laws like this. But that could change.

Earlier this month iiNet, our third-largest ISP, won a case in the Federal Court where Justice Dennis Cowdroy ruled that ISPs are not responsible for the copyright-infringing acts of their customers. I covered that for Crikey and in the Patch Monday podcast.

Since then, communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy has said he wants the copyright-holders and the ISPs to work out a code of practice on their own. However I reckon that’s just a delaying tactic to avoid discussing such a controversial issue in an election year.

The movie and music industries are fighting hard on this one. France and Japan already have three-strikes laws, to name just two. And the industries are devoting plenty of resources.

Mark Thomas points out they were late in using the internet to make money from their assets, and now they’re looking for someone to blame. Yes, the big players may well be making less profit that before. However the bulk of their profit was from distribution. Now the costs of distribution are almost nil — yet somehow they’ve managed to end up making less money. Fools.

They also reckon that if no-one can make money from their creative acts, it’ll be the death of creativity. But in the video, prehistoric musician Billy Bragg points out that while a few artists at the top end may be suffering, the internet has proved a boon for lower-ranked artists, allowing them to reach new markets at much lower cost.

This is a big issue. It’s a complicated issue. It won’t go away. We should all stay informed.

Links for 22 October 2009 through 27 October 2009

Stilgherrian’s links for 22 October 2009 through 27 October 2009, published after far too long a break. I really, really do need to work out a better way of doing this…