The Manchester Review
Ali Smith
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      But through the scratchy perspex of the other side of the pedestrian bridge I could see that there was a footworn footpath going down towards the rails, the kind we used to make in the riverbanks and slopes of the fields when I was a child, the kind that people make in places where paths aren't supposed to be.
      At the bottom of the path the barbed wire fence that shut the station off from the public was splayed open the size of a big dog or a crouching adult. Next to this hole was a sign which said, in letters large enough for me to be able to read them from here, that trespassing was prohibited, that the only people allowed past this point were rail personnel. If we find you trespassing you will be fined.
      I found I was thinking about the person, or people, who'd originally worded that sign. Had there been special meetings held to decide the wording? Did they, or he, or she, pause for a moment at all over find and fined?
      And why, anyway, did the word fine mean a payment for doing something illegal at the same time as it meant everything from okay to really grand? And was it at all connected, that the word grand could also mean a thousand pounds? Did that mean that notions of fineness and grandness, in their travelling etymologies, were often tied up with notions of money? I hadn't a clue. But I had an urge to look them up in a dictionary and see. It was the first urge to do such a thing I'd had in quite a while.
      I turned round. I retraced my steps down the slant of the bridge and under the little barrier between the bridge and the grassy bank, and went down the path towards the hole in the bent-back fence. I slid myself through the space without catching my clothes on any of the sharp cut-open bits of it and I stood up straight again in the litter next to the bramble bushes. I glanced one way then the other along the set of rails in front of me. A train was up ahead of me. I wondered if it was the right train. There was something fine in it, just walking along a forbidden track, thinking pointlessly about words. Travelling etymologies, that was a good phrase.
      It would be a good name for a rock band. It would be a good social-anthropological name for a tribe of people who jumped rolling-stock and lived on it, sheltering under waterproof tarpaulins when it rained, sitting when it was sunny on the footplate spaces, if that's what they were called, or lying stretched out on the tops of the cargoes of carriages; reprobates, meaningful dropouts, living a freer, more meaningful life than any of us others were able to choose. The Travelling Etymologies.
      It was a good idea, and now background-murmuring through my head again, for the first time in ages, was a welcome sound, the sound of the long thin never-ending-seeming rolling-stock of words, the sound of life and industry, word after word after word coupled to each other by tough little iron joists, travelling from the past through the present to the future like rolling stones that gather moss after all.
      I mean, take a rich, full word like buxom, which was a word I knew the history of, since at another point in my life, in what felt like a life centuries earlier than this one now, I had liked words immensely and thought a lot about using them and about how they were used. At the beginning of its history buxom meant obedient, compliant, gracious. Then later in time it meant blithe, and lively, then a bit later still it started to mean overweight, because larger people are traditionally seen as blithe and cheery. Then it stopped being about both men and women and became only about women, in a revealing fusion of compliant, obedient, merry and big-breasted.