In a learning context, you have one individual who "coaches" and another who "trains".

In a transportation context, "coaches" and "trains" are both methods of transport.

Is this just a coincidence or is there some root to both words which can explain a link between transportation and learning?

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    That is rather strange. Can't believe i have never though of this. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 12:31
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    This question makes me inexplicably happy. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 13:52
  • I am not a native speaker neither did I study English but the question reminds me of the work of G. Lakoff, p.e. 'Metaphors we live by'. He would say, I guess, a pathfinding metaphor. It is not a coincidence but within the theory of G. Lakoff a way of 'explaining life'.
    – user147072
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 4:44
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    Oh, trains and coaches are metaphors for life.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 6:13
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    Be a bit cautious with the word "transportation". There a old-fashioned sticklers like me who insist that it was a penal sentence and should not be used in placed of the more succinct "transport", which is appropriate in all cases.
    – Nicole
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:11

2 Answers 2


Yes, the meanings are related.

Train was first applied to the modern vehicle in the sense of a "train of wagons." Train was used (and still is) to talk about making branches or vines grow along a certain path. The idea with "train" someone is to help them get on a path and stay on it. It seems that it was mainly used for physical things such as training a horse, or training soldiers. I was not able to locate more examples but I would think that "train" might also have been used for swordsmanship and also musical activities like playing the violin or singing. We also speak of a "train of thought."

"to discipline, teach, bring to a desired state by means of instruction," 1540s, probably from earlier sense of "draw out and manipulate in order to bring to a desired form" (late 14c.), specifically of the growth of branches, vines, etc. from mid-15c.

Coach was a large kind of carriage. It was natural to transfer this to a train (the transportation vehicle). Coach can also mean to carry someone in a coach. The first recorded use of "coach" as a verb in the modern sense of "help someone with an activity" was in 1849.

1610s, "to convey in a coach," Meaning "to prepare (someone) for an exam" is from 1849

As a side note, this "backward looking" definition of "coach" is useful because it helps distinguish the difference between a trainer and a coach, a coach being a person who "carries you along" and gives you support and guidance. This sense is used in the modern expression "life coach" as someone who supports you, helps you through challenges or goals, and in general gives you a "push."

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    I don't think you can say train was used first in the modern way with train of wagons. The OED has: "body of people, animals, vehicles, etc., travelling together in an organized way, esp. in a long line or procession; a succession of people or moving things." (some of their examples are 1489, with men of armes; 1562, with people; 1667, with herds and flocks; 1720, with geese; 1829, with wagons.) And you can find train of cannon and elephants in 1759 in Google Books. But its use with wagons isn't substantially different from its use with people. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 15:16
  • @michael: I think your answer gives the impression that wagon train was a new use of the word train, when in fact it wasn't. But in response to your question, I don't know if there's any easy way to fix it. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 17:57
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    Seeing "tutor" and "train" mentioned here reminds me of the French noun "tuteur" and verb "traîner". The former is a support (e.g. a stick) for a tree or vine. The latter means to drag or to trail. Dunno which came first, but the connection seems to be there.
    – Drew
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 5:19
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 7:48
  • The French word "train" was used in Middle-age to refer to a line of worhorses and wagons following a group of travellers or an army (Ref. The Arthurian Novel "Escanor'" by Girart d'Amiens 1220). The use of the French verb "Entrainer" in the teaching sense began in the 19th century and comes from the English verb "to train" (animal training, horse-breaking). Therefore, the relation between "train" and "training" (if any) shall be found within English language.
    – Graffito
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 12:08

I believe the two terms are only indirectly related, as train in this sense does not come from the mode of transportation at all. Both do come from the larger concept of providing direction.

The term train has long roots (pun intended) in agriculture, and means to direct or correct, and was primarily used to keep vine plants from overgrowing into neighboring vineyards or out of fertile soil / good sunspots, etc. This term then became the term for supply lines in an army (commonly called "the baggage train" in the literature), and this is where the verb to train in the sense of learning comes from - the act of teaching horses, cattle, elephants, etc. to stay in line and the act of teaching men how to correctly perform their duties in the train.

So rather than transportation, the verb comes more from pathfinding - hence routine, orientation, etc.

Whereas coach as a term does derive directly from coaches.

  1. Coaching used to mean the act of using a coach to get from place to place. But coaching also refers directly to the coachman's job directing the horses.
  2. "Coaching up" meant to coach uphill, which was a particularly arduous task and horses would often simply stop at the first sign of effort, requiring the coachman to whip the horses and basically force them to finish climbing the hill.
  3. Then the term "coaching up" became slang that meant, variously, to "learn" ("coaching up the various subjects of public interest in Eccleston"), to "produce through forced or extra effort" ("all attempts at coaching up a sensation proved a failure"), to "study" ("every Civil Service student who has been coaching up his history will recollect ..."), and "to produce material for learning" (an hour in the evening occupied in "coaching up" work ... - note the quotation marks).
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    It's a pity we can't graft answers on this website. I think your background about coach is more complete than mine. It seems you don't feel train can be traced to train of wagons...or am I mistaken? I agree that baggage train and train are related. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 16:14
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    So if I understand your etymology on coach, it was first used for carrying device, then as a verb, then as a verb for horse trainers then as a verb for helping people. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 16:24
  • That's correct.
    – Kyle Hale
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 16:25
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    I would think the word train came from the metaphor that the student is "following" the teacher; whereas the word coach came from the metaphor that the teacher is "carrying" the student. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 17:59
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    Train comes from the Latin trahere meaning "to pull", so in some sense sure, but to "train" something in the earliest sense means "to set it upon a path" or "to orient in the correct direction", so saying "I will train you" means "I will make you fall in line" or "I will correct you when you get off track"
    – Kyle Hale
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 19:21

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