Sunday, December 20, 2015

Words we 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?

This is a re-post from four years ago.

59 comments:

Douglas Trapasso said...

It must be a tricky tightrope to walk when trying to incorporate current events/expressions; the risk is always that viewers one generation from now will not understand your references ("Murphy Brown"). On the other hand, if you're writing a period piece such as "MASH", you probably -want- to use dialogue to establish time and place.

Barry Rivadue said...

I find it awkward to write, say,"Tina Fey's next role will be filmed...." Filmed? Maybe here and there by cinema purists(THE HATEFUL EIGHT), but now it's mostly digital, so what do we say? Can we still say shot? Recorded? Not scanned! Why even say "films" anymore if there ain't any emulsion? Cranked would be good as a shameless retro term (circa 1915) encompassing any such acquisition of moving images!

Mitchell Hundred said...

http://imgur.com/gallery/91sn32Q

Peter said...

Waiters saying "perfect" is hilarious and something I only got to experience when I was in LA, because here in London they're mostly downbeat or just plain rude. I remember ordering at a Johnny Rockets in Santa Monica and every order was met with a "perfect" or "fantastic". I ordered a Sprite with my burger. "Faantastic!" I actually miss that kind of service. Here you're lucky if you get a "Hello."

Barry - the new Star Wars was filmed on 35mm film. The end credits state it was shot on Kodak film. Hey, that makes the whole movie a Kodak moment!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Writing the copy for a new Web site, I used the word 'snippets' to describe sections of audio demos and was roundly chastised for sounding old. Hrumpf. Snippets are now 'clips.' Jeezus.

Steve said...

I think most of those I haven't heard since the last time I read this post.

Diane D. said...

LOL, Peter---I wonder if the use of "Perfect" by waiters was started by a corporate "suit" (there's another hilarious one). At a chain restaurant in Hawaii, the staff are instructed to greet every customer with "Aloha" and within one minute of arrival, "Where are you folks from?" Corporate spies visit the restaurants and if every waiter isn't saying those things to every customer, the Managers are in big trouble. There is something very troubling about that--removing every impulse of spontaneity; it's like instead of using robots, they try to turn humans into robots.

The lack of Chain Restaurants is one of the things I (and many Americans) love about your country. I'm not the typical
anti-American American, but I am one of the legions always looking for a non-chain restaurant, or something (sigh) like a London Pub.

Ralph C. said...

Ken and gang, records are back. There is new vinyl being pressed, slip into cardboard sleeves and sold in stores. New records are being released as well as classic re-releases. You can buy record players-- brand new out-of-the-box USB-enabled record players. Records have spun back around. People are dropping the needle once again, and not just because the syringe fell out of their hand.

DonBoy said...

More interesting that "record" is the word "album", whose lineage starts with photograph albums, then through albums that looked a lot like that but held 78 PRM records, and then to long-playing 33RPM "albums".

Rebecca said...

I've never heard anyone under the age of 35 use the phrase Kodak Moment. I think that one is in hospice.

johnachziger said...

My son-in-law laughs at me every time I mention that I've "taped" a show (we have a DVD recorder).

blinky said...

Always asked of a TV crew: What are you "filming"?

Not out of date, but a new overused annoying cliche by football announcers: Third and manageable.

Anonymous said...

This post was AWESOME.
Speaking of football announcers, for decades someone was a good "open-field" runner and you wanted to get him into the "open-field".
One day, it just happened when no one was watching, he became a good runner "in space" and we had to get him the ball "in space".

Canda said...


The new cliche I absolutely hate is "back in the day", the most intellectually lazy expression we have "on the planet" (also an overused expression). Whenever someone says, "back in the day" to me, I ask, "Do you mean the Renaissance,or the American Civil War, or the Paleolithic Age? Can you be more specific?".

gary said...

Not sure if this qualifies, but back in the day (sorry) the coming attractions in movies were always called the previews. When did they become the trailers?

Paul Dushkind said...

"Vetting" is a real word, not a slang term, as far as I know.

In a similar vein: Notice that I spelled out "as far as I know." It seems to me behind the times to use AFAIK, and other internet terms made of self-explanatory initials.

And no, they are NOT "acronyms." An acronym spells a word. UNCLE is an acronym. NAACP is not.

Dave Creek said...

"Film" is a tough one. Even as I started in TV news back in the dinosaur days, film was quickly going out the window. Then we "taped" everything. Now it's all computer clips, though many directors still call for the playback operator to "roll" them. But if we're not filming or taping out in the field, what are we doing?

"Recording" is accurate, but doesn't slip off the tongue well in casual conversation. "Shooting" can make people's heads spin toward you in suspicion if they weren't paying that much attention.

And we still talk about "footage," even though those days are at least a couple technological changes ago.

So maybe we just arbitrarily redefine "filming" as any sort of recording of a visual record. I guess in the dictionary you'd have to read down a little in the definition to find its original derivation.

Bill Avena said...

You know the UH. It's what people say at the end of sentences now, usually to signal a joke, and giving the listener time to react. "That's what my ex-wife said, uhhhhh...."
You wouldn't have heard the UH on Jack Paar's show.

Toledo said...

A hundred years ago you "drove" a team of horse to get your wagon somewhere. After the automobile replaced the horses, we still talk about driving a car, although no whips are involved, usually. Some words survive and their meanings just adjust accordingly.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Ken, to be fair, iced tea IS perfect, if unsweetened with a little lemon wedge in it. And a splash of bourbon. And if one knows that several more are on the way.

My favorite phrase of the moment -- although its moment may have already passed, given the current speed of slang -- is "on fleek", for someone flawlessly groomed. I don't like it as much as "on trend", but I don't hate it as much as "curated".

It's interesting that our favorite profanities and obscenities never go out of style.

Other anachronisms: The icon for email is typically something that looks like a postal envelope, and on our fancy miracle phones the icon for a phone is a handset from 1962 (and the voice mail icon looks like a little audio cassette). I wish the icon for text messages was a telegraph line. That would be perfect.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Oh -- "hack". Getting into an information network surreptitiously or jailbreaking a device or figuring out how to get extra lives/points/levels/etc out of a video game -- those are "hacks". They require real, and comparatively rare, technological skill and border (if not cross the border) on illegality.

Tying a piece of bright ribbon to your luggage so you can find it faster at the airport carousel is not a "hack". (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/100-life-hacks-that-make-life-easier.html) That does not require a high IQ; it requires once having had trouble picking out your luggage because you just learned that luggage all looks alike. It's a "hint" or a "tip" or a suggestion". These used to come from a woman named Heloise. In fact, they still do: http://www.heloise.com

Mark Fearing said...

Good ol' language. It just doesn't follow logic most of the time. How we speak in any given time is almost different language 400 years later.

Breadbaker said...

Every barista in Seattle (and I'm talking about individual independent coffee places, not Starbucks) greets every single customer with, "and how has your day been treating you?" We have a tradition you can ignore or answer "fine" to "how are you?" but this specific thing seems to require an actual answer, notwithstanding that an honest one is not always a pleasant response.

Honeycutt Powell said...

What I find interesting is how we use archaic hand gestures. If someone is out of voice reach and you want them to call you, you stick out your thumb and little finger next to your face like an old telephone handset. How else would you do it? And if you want someone to slide their car window down, you have to do the rolling gesture.

Tim W. said...

@Charles H. Bryan

We Canadians would never call unsweetened iced tea perfect. While I'm not a drinker of it, I know of many friends who went down to the US, ordered iced tea and had a rather rude awakening of what you call iced tea.

blinky said...

TV cameramen are shooters and they shoot video. SO it would be correct and in-the-know to ask: What are you guys shooting?

Max said...

Tim W.:

In the American south, sweet tea is very much the norm. The rest of the country seems to prefer unsweet, though.

BobinVT said...

There are many aspects to this: regionalisms (faucet vs, spigot), obsolete technology (don't touch that dial), faded brand names (solid as Sears), and many others. So you could literally write a book about this topic. I guess I would say that the longer the technology was around, the more imbedded the language is in the culture, Centuries of sailing ships resulted in many words and phrases that are likely permanent parts of the lexicon even though coal/oil/nuclear replaced sail long ago. Knowing the ropes, scuttlebutt, figurehead, and many other sailing terms are still in common use today. And of course enlisted naval personnel are still called sailors. Brand names seem to be much more fleeting in their impact, probably because they are around for only a few decades as opposed to centuries. I think Kodak moment has already faded away. Haven't heard that in years. "I'll Google it" is probably the strongest current manifestation.

Roger Owen Green said...

You send an email to someone else, you cc them, which refers to "carbon copy" from back in the day when, if you wanted to actually have a copy of something you wrote, you needed carbon paper.

BobinVT said...

On the topic of overused words, two are obvious: like and awesome. There are people who include "like" in nearly every sentence. "So she was like, really mad at me". We've all heard it. Drives me nuts. Regarding"awesome", this seems to be the only adjective that many people know. Its overuse has been going on for many years with no sign of abating. The Grand Canyon is awesome. Your pancakes are not.

K.W. Leslie said...

In most apps, the icon for saving a file is that of a floppy disk.

I haven’t used floppy disks in… holy crap it’s been a decade now.

Earl Boebert said...

From the (old) Jargon Dictionary, source for the New Hacker's Dictionary, the original definition of the word "hack" in the geek/nerd community:

"Hacking might be characterized as ‘an appropriate application of ingenuity’. Whether the result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it.

An important secondary meaning of hack is ‘a creative practical joke’. "

Many of the uses of duct tape (or, since this is a Hollywood blog, I should say gaffer's tape) in Mythbusters qualify as hacks by the above definition.

Corrupted by lifehack.org, as Charles noted, it has degenerated to mean either a computer breakin or just a Heloise-style tip.

Loosehead said...

The TV has always been "the haunted fishtank" to me. Sometimes the real fishtank is more interesting, or has more talent.

emily said...

I can't hang up the phone anymore...

Jon H said...

I remember seeing one of those station break announcements some 25 years ago, I think from Perfect Strangers (but could've been some other show), where one of the main actors said "Don't touch that dial!" and the other said "People don't have dials anymore!". Even back then, the networks knew that tv's with tuners & dials were turning obsolete.

Eric J said...

I'm from the print side where cut & paste meant cutting your text out and pasting it with tape or rubber cement onto a different piece of paper. Where text was red penciled with a red pencil. Where "after the fold" meant after the place on the page where the newspaper folds. We used to also use actual lead, the metal, to space things (I go back as far as the Linotype). We used the word lede when we meant lead paragraph to differentiate it from lead, the spacing.

Those are all still used by web site news aggregators like Huff Post, The Daily Beast, etc.

AlaskaRay said...

Groovy, man.

Edgar said...

The expression "Don't touch that dial" actually comes from the BLONDIE radio series that was on the air throughout the 1940s. It was an adaptation of the long-running comic strip and featured the stars of the Blondie movies that were being made back then. The radio show always opened with an announcer saying, "Uh! Uh! Uh! Don't touch that dial! It's time for . . .," and then Dagwood would call out, "Bloooondie!"

Antique pop culture trivia for the day.

Cap'n Bob said...

When I go to a restaurant, especially a chain, my order is usually rated as AWESOME. Perhaps they mean I'm awesome to risk my health on their flaked and formed meat product.

The words that really set my teeth on edge, though, are, "Who are you wearing?" The only person you can properly ask this to is Ed Gein.

Don't get me started on that bastard phrase "I'm like..."

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Actually vinyl records are still being produced, there are two record stores in my neighborhood.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Breadbaker said...

Every barista in Seattle (and I'm talking about individual independent coffee places, not Starbucks) greets every single customer with, "and how has your day been treating you?"

NORM!!!

Barry Traylor said...

My son (who is a techno geek) seems to feel I am stuck in 1920 (or 1820 perhaps) because he teases me often about not having the newest and latest electronic gizmo that comes long. My point being he still says things like "I taped Fargo last night" While I make it a point to say recorded (which I hope is not OLD SCHOOL itself).

Rich Shealer said...

@Gary - As I have read they are called trailers because a long time ago they used to show them after the main feature. The practice failed as those patrons are the same as today where most leave as soon as the the credits roll. The name stuck though.

Pat Reeder said...

Once again, I posted a response that seems to have disappeared. Hope it didn't offend you and get yanked for some reason. But here goes again:

In one of our Hollywood Hi-Fi YouTube videos, George Gimarc and I showed an album of 78s and explained to youngsters that this is why collections of songs are called "albums." We then explained to youngsters that collections of songs are called "albums."

Also, I'd argue that the term "record" is still correct because even digital files have to be recorded before they can be posted to iTunes.

Incidentally, if you ever do a post on overused words, I think "amazing" is right up there (or down there) with "awesome." Jimmy Kimmel does a bit where he edits together all the times contestants on "The Bachelor" say something is "amazing." If that word didn't exist, that show would be 8 minutes long.

Pete Grossman said...

We still tape things - a sex tape for instance. Or make a mixed tape for someone. Uh, when was the last time you or someone you knew used video or cassette (recording) tapes?

Ken Levine said...

Pat,

I did not delete your comment. Maybe there was a snafu and it never posted. Thanks.

Mark P. said...

Variety has the right idea. A motion picture in the process of being made is "lensing". Lenses won't be obsolete for a long time.

Jason said...

"The Grand Canyon is awesome. Your pancakes are not."

You have obviously never had my pancakes.

Frank Beans said...

Some outdated phrases that are is still in wide usage, at least for people over 40 like me:

- "Dial the phone"

- "Tape [something]" or "taped" (as in a recording)

- "Pencil it in"

- "Porno films" (or "mags")

Also, I have to say that if a server at a restaurant responded to my order with "perfect' or "amazing" or somesuch, I would think they were just f*cking with me. But then, I don't live on the west coast.

Anonymous said...

"Funny show written by Ken Levine"

jbryant said...

Pat Reeder: "Also, I'd argue that the term 'record' is still correct because even digital files have to be recorded before they can be posted to iTunes."

Similarly, I've always assumed "record" referred to the result of recording a performance. A history book is a written record of events; a recording of a song is an aural record of a performance. There is nothing inherent in the word "record" that suggests vinyl or any other particular format.

Buttermilk Sky said...

How about the double-clutching of verbs? Even intelligent people do this all the time (I just heard the President say "If the suggestion is, is that.."). When did this start? Also, when did "going forward" replace "in the future" or "from now on"?

Books used to be published. They are now "released," like movies and CDs. Annoys me.

cadavra said...

Rich: In the old days, all the credits of a movie were at the start, so a movie ended simply with "The End" and maybe a cast list. Also, double features were the norm, so people were not necessarily going to get out of their seats when a movie ended.

Jon H said...

This is unrelated to the current discussion, but I just saw an episode of Seinfeld which relates to Ken in a way. In the first episode aired after the pilot, "The Stakeout", Jerry's speaking with his cousin, Artie Levine. Jerry introduces him to Elaine as "Le-Veen", and then Artie tells him it's "Le-Vine". Jerry follows with "Yeah, and I'm Jerry Cougar Mellencamp". Jerry wrote this episode with his writing partner & co-creator, Larry David. I wonder if they knew Ken back then and his last name pronunciation inspired them here. I've just been following this blog for about a year now, so I don't know if this has been discussed here before, but it was a pretty funny joke, especially since I know about Ken's name now.

Ron Rettig said...

"Crank the engine" in relation to original meaning of using a crank (i.e. a machine part with a handle that can be turned in a circular motion to move something) to start auto and aircraft engines.

Pamela said...

How about the record scratch that still is the SFX sting signifying that someone has just said something inappropriate?

Wait staff have been "perfecting" up a storm here in the Midwest for years. It's as grating as "no/not a problem." Why can they not say "okay" or "sure" to indicate that they're listening?

cityslkrz said...

My favorite is: cc
How can kids today have any clue what that means? They probably don't even know that it stands for carbon copy let alone what that means
One of those 80s movies had the students all smell their test papers as they were given out. You know everyone under 30 is wondering why they're doing that.

Brian M said...

Here in Toronto, most every waitress likes to say one of two things when I place my order: 1) "Excellent choice!" (I'm certain that if I ordered a certain something that is traditionally served on a shingle, they'd still say that.). 2) "Mmm, yummy, my favourite!" (We have so much in common... Should I propose marriage?)

metrocard said...

I'm with Pat Reeder on "amazing." I must hear that word fifty times a day from the under-40 set (of which I am still barely one). Folks must be easily amazed these days. "My new Odor Eaters are AMAZING!" Give me a break.