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Terms That Have Become Unmoored from Their Etymology in Our Memory:

The classic examples are "dialing a phone number" (or dial tone), "cc" when used on e-mail (originally "carbon copy"), "it's your dime" (or, older, "your nickel"), and "E-ticket ride" (though that's less common); there surely are many more.

I mention this because I noticed a future candidate: "Stay tuned," used on a blog. It still hasn't fully departed from its original etymology, since many people still use radios. The blog usage is thus just the first step of the process, which is adaptation to a new environment, where the etymological meaning is no longer the literal one. But people will shift more and more to network-based "radio" reception, tuning will become a thing of the past, but "stay tuned" (for text as well as for sound) will remain.

Troy Hinrichs (mail):
Of course sounding like a "broken record" went the way of the dodo years ago in terms of literal meaning. "Dropped the dime" on somebody was always a favorite CJ usage.
6.27.2005 12:03pm
Steve:
"clockwise" and "counter-clockwise" aren't quite there yet, but they surely will be.
6.27.2005 12:04pm
SP:
"Broadcasting" of course takes its name from the practice of tossing seeds widely in order for them to reach more places. This may have been in part a deliberate allusion originally, and not a word simply moved unmoored from its original meaning. In fact, "forecast" it is believed was coined by Robert Fitzroy (yes, that Fitzroy) in such a deliberate manner.
6.27.2005 12:21pm
Troy Hinrichs (mail):
"Principled conservative Republican" is also on its way out.
6.27.2005 12:29pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
How about the (not terribly common) "going off half cocked" in an era with few single-action revolvers and even fewer flintlock pistols?
6.27.2005 12:39pm
Alexander Kerdman (mail):
I was recently struggling with opening my locker, and after I succeeded, somebody asked me what the problem was. I told him, I kept dialing the wrong number. He refused to believe that this is correct usage. I seem to think it is.
6.27.2005 12:42pm
Rob Lyman (mail) (www):
Or "bite the bullet" in the age of morphine?

"Lock, stock and barrel"?

"Trunk" for a built-in container in the back of a car?

"Red tape"?

I think I have real work for which I am paid around here somewhere...
6.27.2005 12:46pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Not quite the same thing, but what will happen to "taping" a concert or a movie? When I burn a DVD off cable, I still say "taped," because it's short and familiar. Will it get replaced by "burned" (or something else) when audio and video tapes become genuinely rare?
6.27.2005 12:46pm
Brian Cook (mail) (www):
Michelle, I think taped will endure for a long while, but I noticed something interesting along these lines recently. My family got a DVR, and briefly alternated between "TiVoed" and "taped." Strangely, at some point we switched and are now using "DVR" as a verb. As in "I'm going to DVR The Newshour tonight because I want to hear what they have to say about the Supreme Court decisions," or, "did you see The Family Guy last night? I didn't, but I have it DVRed."
6.27.2005 12:52pm
david giacalone (www):
The constant use of "We'll see you here tomorrow (or any time at our website)" has always grated on me.

A related topic that you might have fun with is the creation of retronyms -- "a new word or phrase coined for an old object or concept whose original name has become used for something else or is no longer unique." Examples: What was once merely a "guitar" is now an "acoustic guitar." What was once a "television" is now a "black-and-white television." What was once merely a "watch," became a "pocket watch" when the "wristwatch" came into being, but the wristwatch is now an "analog watch" when it's not digital. And, of course, a "restaurant" is now a "sit-down restaurant," to differentiate it from the fast-food and take-out versions. There are many retronyms related to the evolution of computers.

We'll we soon be talking about "siteless" lawyers and law professors?
6.27.2005 12:54pm
Alice Marie Beard:
How about "upper case letters" and "lower case letters"? Originally, it was a print-shop term, in the days when printers hand-set type, letter by letter. The type was arranged in drawers. The UPPER CASE letters were in the upper drawer; the "lower case" letters were in the lower drawer. Each drawer was divided into many little sections, and a printer would quickly pull the letters from the drawers to set the type.
6.27.2005 1:04pm
Ken Balakrishnan (mail):
Whenever I've seen "Stay tuned" on a blog, or in some other context than a radio or TV broadcast, I've assumed that it was used at least semi-facetiously. Do people really use that phrase neutrally?
6.27.2005 1:17pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Don't touch that dial.
6.27.2005 1:26pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail):
"To pencil in" an appointment, which I always feel silly saying in the age of the Palm Pilot, but for which I've found no substitute shorter than "to provisionally-but-not-finally commit to."
6.27.2005 1:41pm
just me (mail):
I will always call a musical work an "album," whether on CD or whatever. I'm not even sure that the term ever reflected the vinyl LP medium, or 8-track or whatever, but it should survive.

Don't forget that "journal" literally means "daily," from "jour," so all those weekly journals out there make no sense, and the "daily journals" are redundant. And those journalists who don't crank something out EVERY day are just slacking.

And since many feature writers don't have daily output, it turns out that the bloggers are the "true journalists." Ha!
6.27.2005 1:41pm
JohnAnnArbor:
I hear occasional references to digital memory cards in cameras as "film."
6.27.2005 1:56pm
Sean O'Hara (mail):
"Album" (as in "The White Album") -- early records only contained a single song (well, two with the B-side), so you bought collections of songs in literal albums. The term lost meaning with the advent of EPs and LPs (two more terms that remain in use even though there's no practical reason for the distinction any more), and is even more disconnected from its origin in a world of CDs and MP3s.
6.27.2005 1:57pm
Kev (mail) (www):
"Of course sounding like a "broken record" went the way of the dodo years ago in terms of literal meaning."

True, but I use that term all the time without thinking, and even the middle- and high-schoolers I teach are completely familiar with the term. I sometimes jokingly refer to a record as a "big black CD that skips."

"I will always call a musical work an "album," whether on CD or whatever. I'm not even sure that the term ever reflected the vinyl LP medium, or 8-track or whatever, but it should survive."

The term "album" (to the best of my knowledge) came from the earliest 78-rpm records (a big black CD that skips *and* breaks *grin*), which, because they only had room for one song per side, were sold in large book-like containers reminiscent of a photo album. And yeah, I also still use that on occasion when referring to CD's.
6.27.2005 1:58pm
Arthur (mail):
Floppy disks lost their flop around 1990, when the genuinely floppy 5 1/2 inch models wer replaced by the hardcased 3 3/4 kind.

Similarly, with recent equipment there isn't necessairly anything disk-like, or hard, about the hard disk.
6.27.2005 2:04pm
Jeff R.:
My favorite here is the idea of betting dollars to donuts, which used to connote a lot longer odds than it does today..
6.27.2005 2:20pm
Troy Hinrichs (mail):
And of course Kev, with the DJ's today still using vinyl -- albeit for a different purpose -- a broken record might be a good thing.
6.27.2005 2:22pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
Re floppy disks: Actually, floppy disks are still floppy. They're just encased in a hard plastic shell now. If you break one in half, you'll find a that the actual disk inside is paper-thin. This is as opposed to a hard disk, which, if you take it apart, you'll find hard metal platters inside.

Re phones: It's not just the "dial" references that are out of date. On the earliest phones, the earpiece was hung on a hook when the phone was not in use; that's where we get "hang/hung up" and "off the hook". Also, very few phones these days are made with bells, so references to phones "ringing" are similarly obsolete.

Putting it all together, we can have an almost completely "unmmored" phone sentence: "People kept dialing me, so my phone was ringing off the hook."
6.27.2005 2:25pm
Doug Sundseth (mail):
Regarding floppy disks:

A floppy disk, unqualified, is an 8" disk. The 5-1/4" format is a mini floppy disk, a 3-1/2" disk, which is still floppy inside its case, is a micro floppy disk.

As to hard disks:

I don't recall hearing flash memory referred to as a hard disk, though I would be surprised at that usage. Those devices most commonly referred to as hard disks certainly have disks inside, and they're hard.
6.27.2005 2:32pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
Also, as others have noted here, "broken record" and "album" both date from 78 RPM records, not LPs (it's very difficult to break a vinyl record--try it sometime!). When LPs were first sold (late 1940's), they were marketed as "album-length records", hence the name. I don't mind people referring to modern records and CDs as "albums", but it does irritate me when I occasionally hear a two-LP set referred to as a "double album".

If anyone's curious, here's an actual "record album".
6.27.2005 2:33pm
Thief (mail) (www):
Another one from TV's Golden Age:

"Film at 11."
6.27.2005 2:44pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
And this is exactly why Justices need to keep a copy of their 18th century dictionary handy :)
6.27.2005 2:48pm
Tom952 (mail):
Something ubiquitous is sometimes said to spread "to the four corners of the earth".
6.27.2005 2:54pm
MK2 (mail):
Heh -- how about "Roll down the window" or "Let's go to the videotape!".

Can't remember the last time I rolled down a window.
6.27.2005 3:12pm
David [.net]:
Instead of 'ENTER', I still tell people to hit 'RETURN' on their computer keyboards.


Examples: What was once merely a "guitar" is now an "acoustic guitar."


My favorite of these is "cordless screwdriver". As opposed to...?
6.27.2005 4:43pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
"Clicker". Before TVs (etc.) had infrared remote controls, they had accoustic remote controls, that really did click. (But this is one of those usages that is more in the "oldfart" category than the "unmoored" category.

For the "retro" pile, consider standard transmissions: non-enthusiasts think Hydromatics (excuse me, automatic transmissions) are the "standard", even on cheaper cars where the windows are still operated by rolling the cranks.

"Ice box" is definitely in the "oldfart" pile. I'll have to pay more attention to usages from my parents that make me furrow my brow, or to my own usages that make my children cringe, for more entries of that nature.
6.27.2005 4:54pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
A word that's been used metaphorically for so long that hardly anyone even knows the etymological meaning is "pitfall". I was well past 40 (and listening to a Louvin Brothers song entitled "Pitfall") when I first realized that it must originally have had a very specific meaning: a trap for hunting made by digging a hole, covering it with leaves and branches, and waiting for an animal (or sometimes a human) to fall in. I'd even seen pitfalls used in a movie or two (can't remember which), but still hadn't made the connection.
6.27.2005 5:07pm
Brian Cook (mail) (www):
On "pitfall," if you'd ever played the classic computer game by the same name you'd know that meaning too.

Here's another interesting language wrinkle: in my office, I have the ability to send and receive "faxes" from my desk—by email. Does that really count as a fax? I'm not so sure...
6.27.2005 6:29pm
jd:
Regarding: "fax" fax is shorthand for "facsimile" meaning an "An exact copy or reproduction, as of a document." Therefore, any electronic transfer is a fax provided either that the original was in the same elctronic form or 2) that you are transmitting a scanned copy of a paper document.
6.27.2005 8:59pm
Matt Conigliaro (mail) (www):
I'm not sure if Abstract Appeal is the blog that prompted this post, but on the chance it is, I'll add this thought:

When I designed my site (exactly two years ago), I used "...STAY TUNED..." atop my blogroll precisely because of the phrase's anachronistic qualities. It was meant to be somewhat out of place in the Blogosphere.
6.27.2005 9:00pm
Jack Diederich (mail) (www):
William Gibson, cyberpunk author, futurist, and author of the term "cyberspace" blew it in the first sentence of his first book.

"The sky was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel"

It was supposed to mean gray and static, but today it would just be blue.
6.27.2005 9:58pm
arbitrary_aardvark (mail) (www):
The example I usually use is "dartmouth" which to us is a school in new hampshire (vt?), but to my friend was the mouth of the river dart, where the naval college is.
6.28.2005 2:57am
Thief (mail) (www):
One more that I came across in this article on FNC about the beginning of the beatification process for Pope John Paul II: "Devils Advocate." 1) Apparently the term itself is no longer used (JPII, of all people, changed it), 2) the devil's advocate is not literally an advocate for the devil, it is more an "oppposing counsel" role in the sainthood process, the one that argues against beatification/canonizaton. (Besides, I think the devil has more than his fair share of lawyers to choose from as is.)
6.28.2005 10:43am