Monday, May 4, 2009

Words & Phrases

I was reading a book last night (James Patterson's 1st to Die, the debut of his Women's Murder Club series -- a good read with some nice twists) and a turn of phrase got me thinking. At one point, the main character, Lindsay Boxer, is speaking to someone on her cellphone and when the call is finished, says, "I hung up." Well, we refer to terminating a phone call as "hanging up" even though very few of us have any phones left that require us placing the receiver on the hook-like piece that was standard in old phones. These days, we end a call by pressing a button or touching a screen.

Along the same lines, we speak of "dialing" a number when making a call. Again, however, virtually all phone calls are made by pushing buttons, touching screens or merely saying a name. When was the last time anyone actually used a phone with a dial? (Laurie and I still have a dial phone in our bedroom; it's big and clunky and doesn't break. But we rarely make outgoing calls from the bedroom, so I could not tell you the last time we actually dialed a number. We expect, however, that we will someday have grandchildren who will marvel at this particular antique and how it works.)

Speaking of "dials," I recently heard a TV promo that said, "Don't touch that dial because (something or other) is coming up next." When was the last time you saw a television set that had an actual knob you turned to change the channels? In fact, is there anyone left who actually gets up and touches the set to do it?
Similarly, TV promos often tell you to "stay tuned" for something coming up, a phrase that hearkens back to the earliest days of the medium, when a television set had to be tuned to a channel by turning the aforementioned dial.

At our Tuesday night volleyball, I have the teams change courts during the evening by announcing, "Move one (or two) courts clockwise." With most clocks now showing a digital readout rather than the traditional clock-face (and, frighteningly, leaving many youngsters unable to tell time the old-fashioned way), it is only a matter of time before this terminology also has a puzzling meaning.

Even what I am doing right now: We call it "writing," though there is no pen or paper involved. We could also call it "typing," though there is no sign of a typewriter. Even "keyboarding" is inaccurate because I'm just pushing buttons that are sending electronic impulses, not actually moving keys to create the words on a piece of paper or the screen.

On that note, I'm going to hang this up. Tune in again next time when I'll no doubt be writing about some other topic.

1 comment:

  1. Growing up in the 70s, I know all about dial phones and knobs to change TV channels. It's still remarkable to me how many changes we've been through just in my lifetime. I started buying 8-track tapes when I was 13, because my mother gave me a portable 8-track player. I got the 19" B&W television as a hand-me-down when we got a 25" color TV for the living room.

    Videocassettes, compact discs, DVDs, personal computers, cell phones, the internet, and all that stuff seem like minor miracles that have significantly changed my life and how I live it.

    But the most incredible thing, I think, is that my father still has teh first microwave oven he bought, around '79 or '80, I think. It has two dials, one for the cooking time, and one for the cooking power. Even more incredibly, it still works!