ANYTHING YOU SAY MAY BE
USED TO IDENTIFY YOUR AGE.
T HE WORDS WE SAY DATE US.
For instance, I’m from the group just before the baby boom: the one that listened to rock ‘n’ roll—not rock music. Not long ago, I told the salesman in a store that I needed a needle for my record player. “Oh,” he replied, “what kind of stylus do you want for your turn-table?” And with the advent of the compact disk, or CD, soon no one under 21 will have heard of a turntable.
My search for a stylus took place in a shopping center, which people keep reminding me is a mall. The former solo sneakers, and the latter sells athletic shoes.
Lately I’ve begun a collection of such “telltale terminology.” Some of the words apply to things that were once common but are now rare: milk bottles, slide rules, dime stores, adding machines, linoleum. Others have changed with technology. Ice-boxes first became refrigerators and now, according to a leading manufacturer, are food-storage systems. The Victrola, of course, became a phonograph, a hi-fl, then a stereo, and now an audio system or a home entertainment center On the food front, spaghetti, noodles and macaroni are terms used by middle-aged people who can’t hear the word pasta without thinking of how Jackie Gleason used to say, “Pasta fazooool.”
Near my home there’s a Career center; which I discovered was a vocational high school. Time was when these places were known as trade schools, but that was when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Jails are now detention centers, and junior colleges are likely to be community colleges. And for the ecologically correct, a swamp is called a wetland. Pals have become peers, and heroes have turned into role models. Pep is now energy, and to admit you feel like a sap or a chump is to admit your age rather than your foolishness. If you say teenager more often than adolescent, it proves you were one a long, long time ago.
Some time back, brothers and sisters gave way to siblings, pinups to playmates, boundaries to parameters, and simple to simplistic. Sex is a verbal antiquity on job applications; now they ask for gender. No realm is safe. I read in a newspaper stamp collectors’ column that the term magnifying glass was becoming passé and today’s magnifier is more often a loupe, glass or scope.
In amateur photography, snapshot is being driven out by the word print.
Recently in a meeting, I suggested appointing a committee; it was rephrased so the final motion had me creating a task force. To these ears, a task force requires at least a few destroyers, an aircraft carrier and an admiral.
Perhaps this is as it should be: a way of marking time and generations with words. I think of my childhood and the people who said divan when I said sofa and who insisted they were going to listen to the television. But even given that, some terms should be left alone. During a World Series telecast I once heard Vin Scully declare, “The modern ballplayer calls them flares.” He was referring to a ball that connects
solidly with the bat, but loses oomph in mid-course and drops in for a base hit.
No, thanks. Flares sound like something from the realm of dressmaking. No matter what they say, such hits will always be Texas leaguers to me.
“Dickson’s Word Treasury”
Copyright @ 1982 by Paul Dickson
Published by: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
605 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10158
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993