University City train station notes

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"Please be visible to the engineer OR* train will not stop."

*spoken with very heavy emphasis

Is there a choice?


"Your attention please:  trains en route to destination may be late.  Passengers are advised* that times may increase or decrease** at any time."

*the preceding three words are uttered with rising crescendo, with a slight fall at the end

**strong emphasis on each of the preceding three words

This entire announcement is spoken in a seemingly snide, sneering, pompous tone.  No sympathy or apology whatsoever.  (In Japan, the railway administration is thoroughly ashamed when a train is half a minute late.  In Austria, where many of my relatives worked for the railways as much as a century or more ago, one could set your watch by the arrival and departure of the trains.)  I loathe this announcement more than any other — especially when one is made to wait for an hour or more, after which a train may simply be cancelled without explanation.

Small sign at the entrance to the station



[printed all together inside a square like a Chinese character or a Hangul syllable]


  1. Rick Rubenstein said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 4:02 pm

    Perhaps you should clarify for the ininformed where University City is located?

  2. Andy Averill said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 4:26 pm

    Nanhai Qu, Foshan Shi, China

  3. Norman Smith said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 4:38 pm

    "Please be visible to the engineer OR* train will not stop."
    Is there a choice?

    I presume this is advising you to stand in the open, and not behind a pillar or in a recess. I am also presuming that trains might not stop if there is no passenger debarking (do passengers have to signal that they want off?) and there is no one apparent on the platform, similar to what a bus would do. Pretty opaque message, though.

  4. Bathrobe said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 5:05 pm

    I, too, am mystified by this University City. These announcements are in English?

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 5:21 pm

    I confess that until the question was raised, I had simply assumed that it was a part of Penn State University. But it would now seem that I was wrong.

  6. DaveK said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 6:39 pm

    To end the speculation, University City is in Philadelphia. It’s part of west Philly (the section of the city west of the Schuykill river) The University of Pennsylvania (not Penn State) is there as is 30th Street Station, the main passenger rail station in the city.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 6:46 pm

    I teach at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

    University City station is 8 minutes walk from my office.,_Philadelphia

    The announcements at University City station are in English.

    If they were in Chinese, I would certainly have given the Chinese.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 8:34 pm

    From Tom Ace:

    Your recent Language Log posting about train announcements reminds me of certain signs at Indian train stations. Below, a photo that a friend sent me some years ago.

  9. djbcjk said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 10:27 pm

    What is the 'small sign at the entrance to the station' supposed to signify?

  10. Terry Hunt said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 10:37 pm

    I suspect the "increase or decrease" is because a train that's been delayed in its journey will try to continue faster than normal if it can in order to make up some or all of the lost time, but because it's no longer in its allocated 'slot' may be baulked by other traffic and delayed even further.

    In the UK most train station announcements are now made up of pre-recorded set pieces, or pre-recorded words and phrases strung together, presumably by someone operating a computer, and it's very rare to hear a 'live' announcement. Consequently there's little scope to inject any tones of distain for the 'self-loading cargo' (which is actually a term used by airline staff amongst themselves), or any other emotion.

  11. Krogerfoot said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 10:51 pm

    Another thing you can set your watch by is the several seconds between praising public transportation in Japan online and the first reply saying either "Actually no it's bad" or "Yes but it would be impossible to do in the US."

  12. Keith Ivey said,

    November 2, 2019 @ 11:21 pm

    I've seen the same "UR❤️'D" square painted on sidewalks in Washington, DC.

  13. poftim said,

    November 3, 2019 @ 12:39 am

    Terry Hunt,
    So I guess "increase or decrease" is a kind of nerdview.

    By the way, where is Dr Nerdview?

  14. Leo said,

    November 3, 2019 @ 3:13 am

    The term 'engineer' to mean 'train driver' was the tip-off to this Brit that University City must be in the US. It took me more than a moment to figure that one out.

  15. Athel Cornish-Bowden said,

    November 3, 2019 @ 4:51 am

    When I was at Birmingham University, British Rail opened a new station (on a line that was already there but disused for some years) called "University". I wondered if British Rail employees in other parts of the country knew where "University" was, but it turned out that they did, at least in London: if you bought a ticket to University the question of which university never arose.

    As for announcements, I once went to Sheffield to give a lecture. At the station for going back every single train was late, but what impressed me was that the excuse was different for every train. For those of you old enough and British enough to remember The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, the excuses were like those Reginald Perrin gave every day for arriving late to the office at Sunshine Desserts. They clearly weren't pre-recorded.

  16. Robert Coren said,

    November 3, 2019 @ 10:15 am

    @djbcjk: "You are loved", presumably. I suspect Victor is highlighting the ironic contrast between that rather clunky message and the rather unloving quality of the announcements.

  17. Ross Bender said,

    November 3, 2019 @ 1:28 pm

    File this under Cranky Suburbanite Complaints About the Great City of Philadelphia.

    You could always move INTO University City Village, Victor.

    Yes "University City" is the unofficial name for the West Philly neighborhood in the shadow of Penn, Drexel, and the University of the Sciences. Many claim it is a real estate concoction meant to market the areas to Yuppies.

    For more information on this fascinating hood, and town and gown relations, see my novella "Selling Toasters for the CIA: A University City Village Tale", and my full-length campus novel "Distressed Bohemians."
    I've been observing the jawn for decades. Both available on Amazon.

    The backstory of "Bohemians" is the power struggle between Judy Rodin, who left Penn in 2004 to helm the Rockefeller Foundation. She retired a couple of years ago, and has come back to West Philly to try to unseat Proud Penn Prexy Amy Gutmann, whose current salary is upward of a gazillion dollars annually. Rodin is jealous because her own salary was quite modest in comparison. She activates sleeper cells she has left behind and foments rebellion in the Rodin House, a Penn dormitory, among other places.

    Ivy League cognoscenti will recall that one of Rodin's books was subtitled "Out of the Ivy Tower and Into the Streets."

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 3, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

    If VHM had referred to something he overheard on the sidewalk while walking on "36th Street" w/o further specification, I would have assumed he meant the street so named in the city where he works rather than one of the many many other streets so named in other cities. This is basic pragmatics. If he were a professor at Washington University (which is not strictly speaking in St. Louis but in the separately-incorporated municipality of University City, Mo.) he might have been taken by default to be referring to this station instead:

  19. Anthony said,

    November 3, 2019 @ 10:19 pm

    I, too, thought of University City MO (alumnus of das wüste Land, Wash U.).

  20. DWalker07 said,

    November 4, 2019 @ 2:03 pm

    Well, we haven't all memorized where Victor Mair works. And the link at the top of this blog (that says Filed By Victor Mair), which points to, does not work. It returns "This page can’t be found"

    We could extrapolate from upenn, and assume he works there…

  21. Ron said,

    November 4, 2019 @ 2:50 pm

    To be unnecessarily precise, I note that only a few square yards of the Wash. U. in St. Louis campus is in University City, though the University has that zip code. The easternmost part of the main campus, including the administration building, is in the City of St. Louis, the residence halls are in Clayton, and the rest of the campus is in unincorporated St. Louis County.

  22. B.Ma said,

    November 5, 2019 @ 7:34 am

    @Terry Hunt: I don't know which stations you go to but on my travels across the rail network of Great Britain, I often hear those pre-recorded announcements strung together you mention, shortly followed by a human repeating the same thing.

  23. M. Paul Shore said,

    November 7, 2019 @ 12:35 pm

    A detail of terminology: The use of the word “engineer” in that first-mentioned announcement of the Regional Rail system of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), as well as in corresponding notations in the Regional Rail timetables, is somewhat of an accommodation to the general public’s understandably incomplete knowledge of certain details of railroading. In traditional North American railroad parlance—which a significant number of currently working railroaders remain attached to—a distinction is made between locomotives, which power themselves using fuel that they carry with them, and “motors”, which merely take electrical power from an overhead wire or electrified third rail and convert that into mechanical energy for the driving wheels. (“Locomotive” is short for “locomotive engine”, meaning an engine that moves around, as opposed to stationary engines such as those used in various industrial applications.) There’s a corresponding distinction between engineers, who operate locomotives (as strictly defined), and “motormen”, who operate the aforementioned “motors”. Since SEPTA’s Regional Rail system only runs electrically powered trains—either electric-multiple-unit (EMU) ones, or ones consisting of unpowered coaches hauled by a separate motor (or “power car”, as some of them are sometimes called)—it follows that in traditional railroad lingo that first announcement would start “Please be visible to the motorman”. Since the term “motorman” is nearly unknown to the general public in 2019, though, and since it also has the problem of sounding male-specific to late-twentieth-century/early-twenty-first-century ears (prior to the seventies it would’ve been more likely to be perceived as gender-neutral), I personally think that SEPTA should say—following the terminological lead of a number of other transit systems—“Please be visible to the train operator”.

  24. M. Paul Shore said,

    November 7, 2019 @ 1:52 pm

    @ Anthony: Ich kenne nicht das Land.

  25. Kate Bunting said,

    November 8, 2019 @ 8:48 am

    Athel Cornish-Bowden – Yes, the name of the station in the official list is still "University". I used to travel there on business in the 1980s, and happened to pass that way by train again this summer.

  26. JTL said,

    November 8, 2019 @ 3:15 pm

    Isn't expecting "or" in idiomatic speech to follow some sort of formal logic a kind of linguistic nerdview? "Do X or [consequence/result/threat]." is entirely idiomatic in English. "Quit whining or I'm gonna turn this car around." "Remember our anniversary next year or I'm going to be mad at you." "Don't touch the stove or you're gonna get burned."

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