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VOL. 38 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 08, 2014

When is a word not really a word? Ask Webster

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If you’re passing through Aberdeen, North Carolina, you should have no trouble finding Railhouse Brewery on East South Street. Moore County’s only microbrewery stands in the middle of downtown, just a few feet from the train track.

In Rahway, New Jersey, you might stop for dinner at Rail House 1449, conveniently located at 1449 Irving Street in a renovated 19th-century home across from the train station. In a 2011 New York Times review, Karla Cook had high praise for the steamed scallops.

In Chesterton, Indiana, you may book a “berth” at Riley’s Railhouse Bed-and-Breakfast, a remodeled 1914 freight station. Where you’ll be greeted by Chloe and Jackson, the “Railhouse dogs” (goldendoodle and labradoodle). But don’t bring pets of your own.

In Norman, Oklahoma, you may book weddings and family reunions at the Hall at the Railhouse. In Lake City, Minnesota, you may grab a burger at the Railhouse Grill. In Altoona, Pennsylvania, you may buy a membership to work out at Railhouse Crossfit.

In Paraparaumu, New Zealand, Rail House Coffee will sell you an espresso. In Inverness, Scotland, Piccadilly Gate, formerly the Rail House, will rent you office space, as will Liverpool, England’s 10-story Rail House.

In London, you may quench your thirst at the Railhouse in Raynes Park.

First in a three-part series

The Budweiser RailHouse, in Moosic, Pennsylvania – near Scranton, a big railroad town – is a popular place to gather at game time. Located beyond right field inside PNC Field, a Triple-A baseball stadium, this enclosed area, with barstool seats, offers easy access to beer and food for those cheering on the RailRiders, a farm club of the New York Yankees.

In Roanoke, Virginia, don’t go to the old McClanahan Street address in search of Roanoke Railhouse Brewery. Proceed to 3106 Franklin Road SW, where it’ll open again later this summer. Caveat: it’s not an eatery; leave your appetite behind.

Other cities with going-concern Rail Houses and Railhouses include Pekin, Illinois, Waverly, New York, Renovo, Pennsylvania, Fountain Inn, South Carolina, and Deerfield and Marinette, Wisconsin.

Cities where Rail Houses or Railhouses once were, but are no more, include Modesto, California, Archer, Florida, Boone, Iowa, Farmingdale, New Jersey, Lindenhurst, New York, Glendale, Ohio, and Grimsby, Ontario.

Surfing the Net, I find the businesses named above, easily. And, with effort, I find a great deal more.

Interestingly (to me, anyway, as a word nerd), though the term rings familiar in my head, neither “rail house” nor “railhouse” appear in any dictionary.

Oh, the ever-unhelpful “Urban Dictionary” shows a reader-submitted definition for railhouse: “a place to take your significant other to have fun.”

C’mon, man!

At the other extreme, the OED offers the hyphenated word rail-house, defining it as “a room for storing clothes” and citing the Old English raeilhus.

In Medieval times, a raeil was an item of women’s clothing.

No other dictionary contains this term, which I think I remember from childhood.

What’s up with this? I ask my shero, Erin McKean, cofounder of Wordnik. And she replies.

Next week: McKean on compounds. Plus rail houses in art, business, and literature.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.