Week of January 15, 2023

Train Your Mind Well


Need to “let off (or blow off) some steam”? So did early locomotives when their boilers built up dangerous pressure, hence the safety valve and origin of this term.


Sidetracks are where trains get diverted off the main line for whatever reason, and also the origin of the term for a diversion from the goal among humans.


The term “Hell on Wheels” has railroad origins, and referred to the transient, moving towns that traveled with the westbound construction of the US railroad, attracting the business of the young railroad workers with saloons, gambling, and brothels.


While we now think of a “double header” as two consecutive baseball games, it previously referred to a two-engine train. That was not its first usage, though, since before that a double header was a type of firework.


To be “railroaded” is to hastily forced into an agreement or pushed through a process. This may refer to the speed of this new form of travel, the way early railroads were hurriedly and doggedly completed, or how they were sometimes completed with minimum concern for private claims to the land they were built on.

“The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).


Before bumpers were ever on cars, they were on trains, and “bumper to bumper” was not a traffic jam of cars but the recommended way to efficiently store train cars.


About 150 years before modern DJs spun and scratched on record turntables, trains spun on the original turntables. These huge devices moved trains onto the right track, and are still in use today.