Railway trains still have a fascination for young people.
Children love to stand on station platforms and see the trains come in, although the very young are likely to take a good hold on an adult if the trains should be deemed to be too close.
That apprehension was multiplied in the days of steam. Some children, myself included, saw that standing too close to a steam engine was fraught with danger.
Diesel-electric locomotives came in the 1950s.
They were a bit quieter, but still the novelty value was there. Boys of my age in the suburbs of Newcastle would rush out at the approach of these new monsters and shout to each other “there goes a diesel”.
We had only two types of trains, passenger trains and goods trains. We all knew from the movies, in the days when they were called pictures, that freight trains belonged to the Americans.
But something has happened in recent years to change all that.
I recall seeing many years ago a country town’s new freight terminal and wondering why they didn’t call it a goods terminal, but the change was taking hold.
These days the word freight is entrenched and one of the big movers on the Australian scene has been a group called FreightLink.
Official news releases last year from the Northern Territory Office of Territory Development said the inaugural journey of the “freight train” on the new AustralAsia Railway marked the debut of the country’s newest “freight rail” operator.
Is the transition from goods to freight such a big deal? Probably not, although some would lament the loss of another good Australian word.
But freight has other links, these days not associated with railways.
The word fraught and freight once had the same parents.
The Dutch had words vracht and vrecht in the 14th century to refer to small, single-masted ships and what they carried.
For more than 200 years English borrowed these words as fraught and freight to mean something similar, but, as Linda and Roger Flavell point out, freight finally won out in the second half of the seventeenth century.
The verb to fraught had its place with the meaning of “to load a vessel with cargo”. Eventually, however, its meaning broadened to mean loading anything, even emotions.
These days, if you feel burdened with problems your situation can be fraught with problems. If you feel intense danger, whatever is around you can be fraught with danger.
I noticed an 1891 comment referring to “a fraught of water”.
The big Oxford said a fraught in this context comprised “two pailfuls” of water.
Okay, so how much is in a pail?
I don’t know, but the big dictionary said a pail in the time referred to was a small, shallow dish about the size of a frying pan used to carry water or milk.
As for freight and fraught these days, imagine this: If you’re standing in the middle of the track and a train is bearing down on you, don’t worry whether it’s a goods train or a freight train, just keep in mind that the danger might be a little fraught
My Word. This book deals with columns published in Australian newspapers since 1995. They deal in a lighthearted way with the words we use.
Ringo. This followed the successful My Word and contains more columns published in Australian newspapers since 1995.
This book covers an important part of Australian history. In 1838 horsemen killed 28 aborigines at Myall Creek Station in northern NSW. After two one-day trials, the first producing a not guilty verdict, seven men were hanged late in 1838. This was the first, and probably only, occasion in which white men were hanged for killing aborigines. More details from Sid Harta Publishers or Laurie Barber.