Many years ago I had a colleague who told me that she was concerned about her daughter’s English, as the family didn’t speak English at home. Without a second thought, I told her she should encourage the girl to read.
I didn’t think it mattered whether she was reading Jane Austen, Dickens, Woman’s Weekly, or simply the next Mills and Boone bodice ripper: my idea was that she’d learn grammar and assimilate new vocabulary from seeing language in context.
Sadly, life isn’t as simple as I’d like it to be. A month or two after that conversation, I got a frantic phone call one night to come and remove the evidence: it turned out that the girl had got so caught up in the romance of Mills and Boon that she was desperate to read all the books she could. She’d started shoplifting them from the local supermarket and there was now a bin bag full of paperbacks to be disposed of.
I’m not sure that’s the best place to start this blog post, but I thought of the story as I learned a new word this week when I went for a day trip on a vintage train. (I should probably point out that the train may have been “vintage”, but I was slightly disconcerted to see that the badge on the locomotive suggested that I, too, might qualify for the label.)
Anyway, I read extensively, though much of it is re-reading, and it isn’t usually anything beyond what my mother would have described as “good clean trash”, which does tend to limit the possibilities for expanding my vocabulary.
But when we boarded the train there were little booklets on the tables advertising what trips and excursions were possible; and on one of the pages was the rather wonderful word, ferroequinologist.
“Ferro” was an idea I could link to my school days, when I learned that Fe was the chemical symbol for iron, and from the years I spent in Spain, where I discovered that the shops known as ferreterías were not speciality ferret shops but ironmongers. And it didn’t take more than a moment for one of the group I was travelling with to associate “equinology” with “equestrian”. (She was a millennial, so I think it was because she’d been watching the Olympics, not because she had learned any Latin at school.)
So there we had it: a ferroequinologist translated easily into the English I know and love. It was simply a fancy word for a person whose hobby was iron horses, or, as we’d have called them in the past, an anorak.
This, of course, shouldn’t be taken as any kind of criticism or suggestion of superiority – after all, I was the one who had been excited enough to leap at the opportunity and take a day off work when someone invited me to go on a steam train.
Sadly, the train herself – 7029 Clun Castle – was poorly on the day of the outing, so we had to make do with vintage diesel engines topping and tailing a chain of rather splendid refurbished carriages.
This final photo is one I took a couple of years ago on the same line. It’s of Clun Castle’s cousin, 4965 Rood Ashton Hall, who was playing the role of the Polar Express at the time. And jolly fine she looked too.