The Words We Use: How Our Lives Create Our Language

It’s amazing how our brain can connect events separated by several years and spur us on to discover more about the world around us.

A few years ago I was consulting with a church in the Bronx, and fascinated by the subway there. Last year, I spent several days in a hotel in Nashville, TN that had its origins as the train station for the L&N railroad – which I traveled on as a boy to St. Louis, MO. Last fall, I flew into Baltimore and took the train from the airport to Union Station in DC, where I had a couple of days of meetings and sightseeing.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that this curiosity turned to recreational research in the world of books: histories of subways in general, the ones in New York City in particular, and histories of railroads, starting with the ones in and around New York City.

Reading the book Grand Central last night, two particular passages caught my eye:

Not long after the Harlem Railroad linked the teeming city of New York to country homes in Harlem, what would become the Bronx, and the Westchester and to small Hudson Valley villages, a perceptive railroad superintendent remembered only as M. Sloat noticed a new class of customer: the repeat passenger, whose to-and-fro trips to work and home represented a potential marketing bonanza. Seizing the opportunity, the railroad initiated an imaginative fare structure for tickets based on a onetime passage or even a round trip, but on unlimited rides for six months or a full year at a steep discount from the single-fare rate.

The full fare was commuted, and with one bold entrepreneurial stroke the commuter – in name, at the very least – was officially born.

GrandCentralTerminal

courtesy Paolo Villenaeua

 

Cornelius Vanderbilt (owner of the above mentioned Harlem line), the steamboat tycoon turned railroad magnate, had an on-again, off-again relationship with Daniel Drew, a devilishly clever Wall Street buccaneer.

Drew’s reputation for bloating his cattle by quenching their thirst before delivering them to market and for later outwitting Vanderbilt by diluting Erie Railroad shares would give rise to a double meaning of the term watered-down stock.

The origins of words are fascinating. Here are two terms commonly used in our vocabulary today that were taken from the 1870s. They exist because of the rapidly ascending influence of new technology and industry – the railroad.

I wonder – what words are we creating today from the digital world we live in?

Quotes from Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, by Sam Roberts

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The Power of a Word

The immediate reaction is the only reaction that matters.

When we meet someone new, when we introduce a new thought into a conversation, when we send a text, we are making a first impression.

As soon as we do that, people begin to make judgments about us – the same way we are making judgments about them. We may not intend to and they are mostly subconscious, but we are making them nevertheless.

You’ve probably heard the saying – “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”.

It’s right.

What will your “first impression” be today? To your spouse, children, or other family members? To your boss, employees, or co-workers? To the neighbors walking the dog? To the barista at the coffee shop? To the checkout person in a long line at the store? And so on…

Make your first impression your best impression.

It may be the only one you will ever make with that person – and it may be a life-changing one.