Thursday, February 02, 2006

Telegraphing the end (cc me on that)

An article in notes that Western Union has discontinued its telegram service. A fellow editor (JimP) and I were musing on vocabulary that is based in outmoded technologies. In this instance, there are at least a couple of words:
  • to telegraph (AHD: To make known (a feeling or an attitude, for example) by nonverbal means: telegraphed her derision with a smirk ). Also, as Jim added, "to reveal one's intentions without meaning to (a boxer who telegraphs his punches, f'rinstance). "
  • telegraphic (AHD: Brief or concise: a telegraphic style of writing. )
Jim had earlier sent me some terms he'd encountered while working with telephone-related software. He noted that the following phone-ish terms, while still in use, had essentially lost their literal sense:
  • On the hook, off the hook
  • Hang up
  • And as he said, "Really, even dial tone."
To which I add that to dial itself is a term that references obsolete technology.

Some time back, I'd been writing about software used to send emails (that is, "e-mail messages"). The two terms cc and bcc are still in wide use -- I can see them in Outlook 2003 right now. But how many people these days have ever held in their hands the "carbon" part of "carbon copy"? Only us old folks.

I would be surprised if there isn't a term for this kind of anachronism; the phenomenon happens all the time, and not just in high-tech. It's slightly odd, though, to watch it happen within one's adult life.


Anonymous said...

Isn't BCC (blind carbon copy) for sight-impaired people?

Seriously, you are right. Dial is an anachronism. In fact I recall that one of my kids once picked up a dial phone while we were traveling and had no idea what to do next.

What's the correct modern replacement verb for dial, the phone sense? Tap? Punch? Hit? Key?

Kim said...

Another one: the "broken record" scenario. A friend's kid was repeating herself endlessly in a bid for attention, doing that "Mom? Mom? Mom? Hey, Mom? Mom?" thing, to which the friend asked "Is your needle stuck?" Utter bewilderment ensued.

On a related note, in many sitcoms and movies, the universal indicator for a conversation-stopping awkward or perplexing moment still seems to be the sound effect of a needle screeching across a vinyl record: eeerrRRRTTT! on the soundtrack. Does this noise mean anything to the younguns any more, besides "awkward pause"? Or has it become entirely disassociated from its origin? (I'm assuming the latter.)

Anonymous said...

I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of thing so I did a search and ended up here.

So, related to the other phone terms, we have the term “to ring”. Phones these days play a synthetic bell sound instead or a song. I prefer the authentic bell ringing sound to most of the synthetic ones, which are shrill and harsh.

And people still occasionally say “put out the light” even though it’s electric instead of gas, kerosene, oil, or a candle. I noticed a physical anachronism that goes with this. The switch on a lot of table and floor lamps is a small knob you twist with a thumb and finger. It resembles the knob on those pre-electricity lamps.

Another non-linguistic anachronism I have found (sorry to get off track, but it is really interesting, I think) is the use of trumpet music in news program theme music. It comes from the times trumpets were played to get people’s attention before announcements were made, like at royal courts and jousting tournaments. I think it’s funny how these are supposedly such modern times but we still have anachronisms like this.

I’m going to keep searching for anachronisms, and add them if I find any.