The word squawked from the overhead speakers — what did the prerecorded woman announcing the streetcar stops advise we hang on to as the train lurched forward? This was public transit, where language is crafted for the masses, simplified to the point of ideograms. Did she say stanchion? Is that the word for those thick plastic loops that hang from the overhead railing of the train, the straps to which standing riders cling in order to remain standing?
A stanchion, I learned later, is actually an upright pole, post, or support, and a common structural accessory on all public transit. But what pleases me most isn’t the word itself, but the context: Trimet could have chosen words that everyone knows — “hold on to the uprights” or even just “hold on.” Instead, they used the specific, appropriate, little-known word, tossing it out like bait to the lexically curious. It felt like a covert vocabulary lesson, an homage to accuracy and a defiance of the dumb-it-down mindset that permeates many of our public spaces. Bold move, robot Trimet lady. Well done.