Monday, December 05, 2011

Words we still use that now make no sense

As a writer I’m always fascinated by slang and common expressions. Dialogue sounds so much more real and colorful when you’re able to tap into the way people really talk. New words enter the popular lexicon all the time. Ten years ago was anyone “texting” much less “sexting”? Or even “tweeting”. Today we have “smart phones”, “flat screens”, “man caves”, “vetting”, “blogs”, and if I’ve missed a few then “my bad”.

Words become over used. Can a waiter or waitress take an order today without saying “Perfect!” twenty times?

“I’ll have an ice tea.” “Perfect!” “Really? ‘Cause it’s not like I’m selecting just the right wine with this entry. It’s fucking ice tea!” “Perfect! Be right up.”

There are probably a dozen other examples but…whatever.

And then there are expressions that have taken on new meanings. “Sampling” used to mean trying a variety of selections. Today in the music world it means stealing someone else's work and justifying it as an homage. You used to be able to say, “I hooked up with my sister the other day” without being accused of incest.

But my focus today is on words and expressions we use in everyday speech that have since outlived their meaning but we still use anyway. Here are a few examples.

“The tube” – a popular synonym for a television. Once upon a time there were tubes in a TV set. No longer. I guess you could call it “the chip” but I don’t see that catching on.

People order additional phone “lines”. In this cellphone world there are no “lines”, everything is wireless.

“Don’t touch that dial”. You’ll hear announcers still say that. At one time you did have a big dial on your radio or TV, which you twisted to change stations. When was the last time you saw one of those that wasn’t in the Smithsonian right next to Abe Lincoln’s log cabin?

Good photo opportunities are still referred to as “Kodak Moments”. Kodak made film for a thousand years. Today we have “Digital Nanoseconds”.

We used to correspond with certain friends in distant locales by getting out the old Bic and writing letters. Today we email, text, or IM but still refer to them as “Pen Pals”.

Recording artists are still coming out with new “records”. That’s what they were in the old days – vinyl platters. You could even argue that CD’s are just an updated technological version. But now music is released on line (again, is there really a “line”?).

So what are other examples? It’s kind of interesting isn’t it, to stop and think once in a while about just what the hell we’re saying?

59 comments:

Jeremy Spitzberg said...

Not a word, but an icon.

The "Save" button on most computer programs is a floppy disc. There are generations of computer users who have never seen one of those!

bulbul said...

Hang up on someone. I actually had to explain that to people.

titabuds said...

Rewind.
And yes, what's the equivalent of 'hang up' nowadays?

Naz said...

If I never hear the expression "wrap my head around it" or the overused word "amazing" again it will be too soon.

Bob Summers said...

People still ask if you taped something when you recorded it on your DVR. I've even heard Film at 11 recently.

Went to a little store next to a college campus, and the clerk asked if I were a student. I said I had done grageeated from the sixth grade. Blank look from the clerk. At another store, a clerk had a coat on in the summer and he told me it was because he'd been back in the cooler. Fill in your own Hogan's Heroes joke here. It got nothing.

People seem to still know what wire services are. I guess the vision of that AP teletype still hasn't gone away.

Speaking of, Ken, here's a possible Friday question. Do you or any broadcast colleagues have memories of the 1971 accidental activation of the EBS? Turns out they just put the authenticated warning tape on, instead of the ususal test message. But it seemed to cause a little panic. What do you recall?

Harkaway said...

I have trouble saying "record" instead of "tape."

And who watches a "box" anymore?

Harley Davidson said...

My favorite is TV Weatherpeople who tell me tomorrow is going to be a "carbon copy" of today.

Anthony said...

I'm okay with "record" for digital files. It's still a "record" of a performance no matter the media. Also, Kodak still makes digital cameras, so you can still have a Kodak moment.

Craig L said...

Actually, I remember, not long ago, when "releasing a record" was usurped by "putting out a CD", which itself is now becoming obsolete. I always preferred "album" which can apply to vinyl, CD, a collection of digital files, or even cassettes and 8-tracks, although it was originally coined to refer to a set of 78RPM records with one song on each side, in packaging that did resemble a photo album. But then "photo album" is another anachronism. But I remember the radio format they called "AOR: Album Oriented Rock" (which they came up with because they thought "Progressive" had some stigma to it - but then, isn't "Progressive Rock" all old music? As well as "New Wave" from the80s?).

Which brings us back to the "Kodak Moment" which is particularly timely considering the news of Kodak's rumored imminent bankruptcy (just as I bought a computer printer withthatbrandname). But "Instamatics", "Kodachrome" and the semi-competitor "Polaroid" are gone forever.

As for the "tube", well, the related term "Boob Tube" is more apt than ever, and you COULD refer to the thick coaxial cable attached to the device as 'tubing'. But what about "the small screen" (TV) versus "the big screen" (movies), when the home television may have a larger screen than some of the 14 mini-theaters at the multiplex?

Even "cel phone" (or "cell phone") is going out of style, as nobody thinks of mobile phones as cellular anymore, just having coverage areas... and "bars".

Just don't complain about the term "blog", without which your site might have been called a "journal site" or "digital diary"... and I think "blogoshpere" is a fun term... but that may be endangered as more people go from Blogger to Tumblr...

britinla said...

People still talk about dialing a phone; even though rotary phones vanished before vinyl and that was a long time ago.

SeanK said...

As a telecom, employee let me remind you that regardless of how wireless things appear to be, those cell towers and WiFi networks are connected to long haul fiber optic networks that crisscross the nation and the planet. Think your 4G network is fast? It is because it’s moving at the speed of light…along some very thin glass.

John S said...

I think it's still an album or a record. It's a record of a performance and a collection of material is called an album, right?

It does bring up "You sound like a broken record", though. That meaning is lost forever

Tod Hunter said...

New ideas have been defined by the previous ideas for some time. Remember when CDs were "like records, but they're played with lasers"?

You get electronic messages but they're called e-MAIL. Your identification code is called an e-mail ADDRESS.

And I just spotted this one recently: the place where airplanes arrive and depart is an airPORT. Like the PORT the ships use.

We still speak of "dialing a phone" even though I had to teach my kids how to use a dial phone if they ever had to. At least nobody calls it the "Ameche" any more.

--t
Verification word: pubbe -- somebody got WAY too cute when naming the English-style bar

Anonymous said...

A "Kodak Moment" was special because film was a medium with limitations and constraints. You had only 24-36 pictures on a roll of film - you had to not only try and get a good picture (which you didn't know if you pulled off until days or weeks later), but be careful that what you selected was clickworthy. That is surely a concept unheard of today, when a lowly cellphone can hold thousands of pictures, and you can see it immediately after it's taken.

Somewhat related to the topic at hand - have you noticed that the "needle comes to a screeching halt on a vinyl album" is still used as a sound effect, to signify a suddenly awkward/abrupt change in a scene? Especially movie trailers still seem to use it. I wonder what people under the age of 20 or so think that sound is...

Anonymous said...

I still like to call the phone an "Ameche". But then, I'm "an old fart"

Robbie said...

"Rolling down the window" in a car. There's no more rolling!

Holly said...

I still say rewind instead of fast backwards, even though there is no tape to wind.

Andreas said...

> “Sampling” used to mean trying a variety of selections. Today in the music world it means stealing someone else's work and justifying it as an homage.

I'm all for poignancy, but come on. I guess I could say that writing is nothing more than making shit up and then sitting on your ass while getting paid. But that's hardly fair, now is it?

RCP said...

Robbie said...

"Rolling down the window" in a car. There's no more rolling!

I was going to submit that one, Robbie. When I was back East over Thanksgiving, I had a "value" rental car and sat there for 30 seconds trying to locate the power window switch. Finally noticed the "rollers."

Mike said...

Expressions we use in everyday speech that have since outlived their meaning:
After thirty years of neoliberal capitalism,
America, land of the free.

Beth Ciotta said...

Adored this post, Ken. What fun and how true! Also enjoyed everyone's comments. I will not confess as to how many of these terms I still use. But I will think twice the next time I start to rattle one off. Maybe.

Jaclyn M said...

Actually, I've been hearing TV announcers say "Don't touch that remote," rather than dial lately. Who knows if some of these other expressions will eventually change too.

Mark said...

When I was growing up in the late 1800s, "record" was understood to be short for "phonograph record," implying that there were other forms of record besides vinyl. At the time I suppose that would have included illuminated manuscripts and cuneiform.

Blair Ivey said...

One of my favorite biblio-anachronisms is 'set sail' to describe a ship getting underway.

DanTedson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
normadesmond said...

carbon copy loved that!

Johnny Walker said...

I love that we still have these old words hanging around. The fact that younger generations have no idea where they came from makes me feel worldly and knowledgeable.

"Why yes, I DO know where the term 'B-Side' comes from..."

Dave Olden said...

A Video place I used to rent from, put this sticker in every DVD box:

"Please be Kind: REWIND"

Eric said...

Actually "Album" has been obsolete since the days of 33 RPM LPs. They were called Albums because a long-form musical work came as a set of I think 4 or 5 78s, which were bound into a book.
Example picture

Chris D said...

I work for a television show that has been around for so long that the production office continues to refer to published versions of scripts as "mimeos." No foolin'.

DJ said...

and I think "blogoshpere" is a fun term... but that may be endangered as more people go from Blogger to Tumblr

Not really..."blog" is a contraction of "web log."

Jake Mabe said...

I heard somebody the other day say, "Well, that's the 64,000-dollar question, isn't it?"

And I got to wondering how many people even knew that was once an extremely popular TV game show...

emily said...

So many things have become Awesome! I mean. Wow. That's what I'm talking about. Awesome.

RJ Battles said...

Ken, I think your "sampling" comments hit too close to home with Andreas. They wrote:

"I'm all for poignancy, but come on. I guess I could say that writing is nothing more than making shit up and then sitting on your ass while getting paid. But that's hardly fair, now is it?"

I think Andreas is saying that writers are just as lazy as people who "sample".

"Sampling" is a lazy way of making music. The drum intro to "When The Levee Breaks" has been used a bunch of times. I think if someone admires, say, a certain drum sound, they should practice and try to re-create it themselves, or hire a drummer to do it, or hire the original drummer to play for them. But it's lazy and dishonest to just use the original recording.

Some people go way beyond using a few sounds; they basically steal the entire song. There's Sean Combs who takes songs from the 1980s (like The Police's "Every Breath You Take"), adds a beat and just raps over it all.

If someone wants to defend sampling, that's fine. But it's pretty lame to try to compare sampling to writing.

Ron said...

Actually "the tube" is still somewhat correct as LCD TVs are illuminated by cold-cathod fluorescent tube(s).
What about "crank it up" to start an engine coming from hand-cranking motor to start it up in early engines on automobiles and aircraft.

Phillip B said...

Somehow "off the hook" stopped being about an unfortunate fish and became a reference to something new or fresh (which could include both fish and fowl, I guess.)

What is adieu? And why does every introductory speech apologize for taking it too far?

I swear last week someone told me "go ahead, it's your dime!"

And it was not so long ago that I was asked "the $64,000 question."

And if somebody has "put their money where their mouth is" I'd suggest they use a credit card...

Mike said...

I still see notices asking people to come view "a slideshow of [fill-in-the-blank]." I highly doubt it's an actual slide show, complete with the carousel, the projector, the tiny little slides, etc. It's usually a PowerPoint presentation.

Also, while there's an ever-dwindling number of them (RIP, All My Children), the daytime serials are still always referred to as soap operas, even though they've been sponsored by a lot more than just soap companies for decades now.

Bryan L said...

About a month ago, I explained to a roomful of 20- and 30-somethings what an "E-ticket ride" was. They were astounded that Disney parks ever took tickets for individual rides, and that I had actually used such arcane objects.

Another day, one of the same kids asked "who even has home phones any more?" I told him that I did indeed have one. I also told him that my family had a party line phone when I was a kid -- and then explained what it was. He was suitably horrified.

Another day he asked me what "camera-ready artwork" meant. I started to explain how things worked in the days before digital presses, and he laughed and told me he was pulling my leg. Smartass kid.

Tod Hunter said...

And even those people who do remember that there was a show called "The $64.000 Question" might not remember that it was s descendant of the '40s radio quiz show "Take It Or Leave It" which started with a $1 question, and doubled the value up to the $64 question.

Yeah, $64 was the top prize. And it was probably still more than most people made in a week.

--t
Verification word: babinco: Brazilian name for Babies R Us

Adam said...

Servers use inane, positive sounding words all the time. It's because it's a part of their job to sound upbeat. Saying "perfect" or something similar gives that impression. If it makes you feel any better, I promise they don't think your "fucking ice tea" is "perfect", they are probably thinking about their shithead table who doesn't like their word usage.

Breadbaker said...

Here in Washington State, "election day" is an anachronism, as it is in Oregon. All ballots (except in one county) are entirely by mail, there are no polling places, and what you might think of as election day is simply the last day for the ballot's postmark.

It annoys me that I can't get rid of all political ads after I turn mine in, either.

DAVID BISHOP said...

Contestants on Idol/X-Fastor/whatever who say they want/wanted to grow/express themselves as artists. [This particularly applies to returning singers from past years, back to plug their new album.]

You want/wanted to express yourselves as artists? Go right ahead. Paint up a storm. The dropsheets are in that cupboard.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Believe it or not, a lot of groups are releasing their albums on vinyl again. I go to a store in Tarzana that has a huge selection of new vinyl. It's coming back. I have hooked by turntable up to my sound system again. I forgot how much fun it is to play records.

Cap'n Bob said...

I have a 2008 Chevy pickup with hand-cranked windows and I have to unlock the doors with a key. No tape or CD player, either. Yes, it's basic transportation.

I worked in printing for years and cut-and-paste meant you literally cut something out and pasted it somewhere else. And you used a razor, not a cursor.

Brian Phillips said...

I know of some that use the word "Tape" interchangeably with "CD" or compact disc.

Friday question: On the late, lamented (by me, at least) "Jackie Thomas Show", one of the writers leaves the Jackie Thomas show to work on an animated show about a walrus. The show runner (Bill Maher) hands the writer an enormous show "bible", to better understand the walrus that she is writing for.

I don't believe that they would be quite as huge as the one I saw on JTS, but are "Show bibles" still used?

WV: Chagge - Scooby-Doo's pal, when the cartoons are played in France.

Mister Charlie said...

LOL, Ken....so you mean now we can "sample" our siblings? :D

MikeBo said...

I happened to use the term "drop a dime" in a meeting one morning. The accountant across the conference table from me got a confused look on her face and said,"phone calls haven't been that cheap in years." It's what happens when beancounters analyze linguistics.

Tod Hunter said...

Just thought of another anachronism: "film," used as a verb.

Often, "filming" is actually "taping" or "digital recording." In porn (where I work as a reviewer and journalist) it's ALL digital, with film look installed in post if that's what they want.

I still am stunned by the reference I read about "Saturday Night Live" filming -- they don't record it at all, it's broadcast LIVE. (Although there is a delayed replay for other time zones, it's a live show.)

--t

VP81955 said...

Here in Washington State, "election day" is an anachronism, as it is in Oregon. All ballots (except in one county) are entirely by mail, there are no polling places, and what you might think of as election day is simply the last day for the ballot's postmark.

With the Postal Service eliminating Saturday service, this could get interesting around election time in some of the outlying areas of those states.

-bee said...

As the primary dictionary definition for 'record' is "a thing constituting a piece of evidence about the past" - it would not be a bad idea to use 'record' (as a noun) not just as a platter with grooves, but as a catch all description for any kind of technological 'recording' - especially as technology changes so much.

"Film": They've been saying movies would be switching from film to video/digital for probably over 20 years, but just in the last year or so theater owners have been replacing film projectors with other devices. If film does die out as a medium it remains to be seen if will live on in 'filmmaker', going to a 'film', etc...

The things you watch online are referred to as 'videos', which I find odd.

A phone 'rings' but no longer has a literal little bell in it

I think writing originally meant putting pen to paper, but has hung on to mean the act of putting thoughts into words with any technology. Typewriters are pretty much gone but as I press down on my keyboard it is still called 'typing'.

gottacook said...

Why is the use of "videos" odd? Video simply means something you see; it need not refer to videotape.

gottacook said...

Ron: LCD TVs and computer monitors are starting to be illuminated not by compact fluorescent tubes but by an array of LEDs, so there goes that somewhat-legit use of "tube." All current Apple displays (since 2009, in the case of the iMac) are backlit by LEDs.

Brian said...

Do we still make Mix Tapes?

Jan said...

Forgive me if someone mentioned this one already. Right now we're watching Boardwalk Empire, I predicted what was about to happen, hubby asked me how I knew it, and I said "Jeez, they telegraphed it."

WV: Cisco, a stock that had better shape up.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Eric: I am just about old enough to remember having an album of 78s that made up Peter and the Wolf as a young child. Never made the connection. Thanks.

Philip B: "adieu" is French for goodbye (literally, "to god"). Probably came into common use in the US after The Sound of Music put it in that good night song.

"on steroids" for a description of strength came in I think just after Ben Jonson's positive test at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The first use I remember was the NeXT machine (Steve Jobs' 2nd company) which was described as "the Mac on steroids". Both new and outdated: the top athletes moved on to EPO and HGH.

wg

Ellen said...

And speaking of dials ...

Phones haven't had them in at least 30 years, yet we're still "dialing" the phone.

SteveM05 said...

My wife calls the remote a 'clicker'. Why? I'm not sure.

Btw, Ken - I think some people are stabbing your frog ;)

James said...

"Trailer" -- as in movie trailer. They used to be at the end of movies.

I bring that up for another reason --

"This trailer is brought to you by Johnny Walker"

Remember when trailers were advertisements? Now we have advertisements advertising other advertisements.

You point that out to anyone who is under the age of 22 and the answer you get is, "So?"

4 soldiers storm a 7-11 with a MW3 heads up display and one guy pounds a Mountain Dew. I met the guys who made this ad -- made the mistake of saying I love the MW3 storming the 7-11 ad. They looked at me sourly and said, "it's a Mountain Dew ad."

"App" is short for application, but really what it is referring to today is something far more specific. An add-on for your phone.

"Film" the verb. You guys already nailed this one. With PANAVISION (and several others) saying they will no longer make film cameras, "film" is never going to be the correct term. Yet, "film" will be the verb everyone uses.

"Pwned" -- was originally a misspelling of "owned." Now people use the term "Pwned" and use it correctly instead of owned whether or not they know where the term came from.

James said...

Along these lines, but on a different tangent --

People more often pronounce words incorrectly than ever before (even when using them in proper context).

This has a lot to do with getting our information through text.

"Poignant" -- I heard pronounced with a hard G and 2 Ns twice in one day by two different people.