This is what I call the place where I catch the train both to and from London. Increasingly, what I’ve always considered to be an Americanism – train station – is being used, even by friends of my own generation. Until about 15 years ago, I had the feeling that ‘train station’ was current only among British people born since about 1965, but it is now seeping up the generations, and last week-end, I heard it on the lips of a 70 year old. Interestingly, the first line of Paul Simon’s song Homeward Bound is “I’m sittin’ in the railway station”. I know he wrote it in Britain (actual location disputed), but since when do Americans use British phrases simply because that’s where they are? Of course, “I’m sittin’ in a train station” wouldn’t scan.
Anyway, the OED inevitably has a section on the phrase. The first references are to the Morning Chronicle, March 1845 and the Daily News November 1856, both British, but then there is a long gap to 1955 (US) and then 1981 (New York Times Magazine) which is, like me, commenting on the usage: “When was the last time you heard a young, rich-affluent-wealthy type use the phrase railroad station? Upper-class use is now train station.”
I mention this now because I’ve just caught up with the first episode of the new series of “Mr Selfridge” on ITV, in which the (fictional) female owner of a dubious ‘gentlemen’s club’ gives a reading from her autobiography, and uses ‘train station’. Even though she had supposedly recently returned from the US, I don’t think that would have been right in 1914, especially given the circles she is supposed to move in, and the 1981 quotation given above. Film makers, whether for the big screen or TV, go to great lengths to get costume and set dressing correct. Why can’t they pay the same attention to the language their characters use?