The Language of the Rails

20 03 2012

Railroads have done more than get us and our stuff where we needed to go. As trains made an impact on daily life, they also added to the popular vocabulary. Here is a list of words and terms that we now take for granted that can be traced back to the railroads. Do you know what they mean? Do you know where they came from? How have their modern meanings changed from their original use? Can you think of any more we’ve left off our list?

  • Caboosecaboose
  • Boomer
  • Brass Hat
  • Fast Mail
  • Pullman
  • Consist
  • Johnson Bar
  • Mainline


  • Whistle Stop
  • Double-header
  • Cow Catcher
  • Cupola
  • Doodlebug
  • High Iron
  • Riding the Rods
  • Asleep at the Switch
  • Be Railroaded
  • Clear Track Ahead
  • The Real McCoy
  • Highball
  • Roundhouse
  • Cornfield Meet
  • Deadhead
  • Red Light District
  • Ducats
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks
  • Gandydancer
  • Bending Iron
  • Hopper
  • Coupler
  • Hotbox
  • Turntable

Stourbridge Lion

    • Iron Horse
    • Big Rock Candy Mountain
    • Indian Valley Line
    • Flimsy
    • Tie ’em Down
    • Wye
    • Grease Monkey
    • Greasy Spoon
    • Hobo
    • Brakeman
    • Kangaroo Courtoiling
    • Meat Run
    • On the Advertised
    • Varnish
    • Pull the Pin
    • Whistle Stop
    • Pussyfooter
    • Train Spotting
    • Red Board
    • Redcap
    • Shortline
    • Stemwinder
    • Third Rail
    • Semaphore
    • Train Wreck
    • Runaway Train

  • Building up steam
  • One track mind
  • Hooping it up
  • Blowing off steam
  • Jerkwater Town
  • By the Wayside
  • Milk run
  • Sidetracked
  • All the Bells and Whistles
  • Derailed
  • Choo Choo

How many do you recognize? Here are some helpful links to help you learn the ones you missed, and learn a few more!



One response

20 03 2012
Vicky Parrin

Some of these terms I haven’t heard in years!! I grew up in a RR family. My great grandather, grandfather, great uncle, 2 cousins & my husband were all with the MOP (Missouri Pacific…now Union Pacific) & an uncle was A & S (Alton & Southern). I grew up in a RR town…Dupo, IL, so you were just use to hearing trains all the time. You could hear them humping cars as they switched in the yards. Seeing these terms was fun & brought back memories of what I heard my family talk about when I was little.

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