Stranded Words

Posted in: Language

On: January 23, 2011

Technology has made a lot of things obsolete, including words. But some words refuse to die, even though their original meaning has drifted away. These are stranded words.

Think about the word “tape” as in ‘I’m going to tape this show’ or ‘tape this song’. How many people still ‘tape’ things with their PVRs. Hard drives made VHS tapes and cassette tapes obsolete long ago, but the word perseveres. We still “videotape” things with our flip cameras and smartphones, even though it is saved to a hard drive. My son saw a VHS tape the other day and said ‘what is that?’

Or how about ‘dial’? I still ‘dial’ my iPhone when I am calling someone, although it is very different from the black rotary phone I once dialed in my parent’s house back in the day. There is not a great replacement word; perhaps that is why it endures. We don’t want to “key in the number” or “enter the phone number” – not very elegant. So dial it remains.

Then there is a “record” which once meant a vinyl recording. While there are still some vinyl fetishists out there, it too is a stranded word. Is a CD a record? Maybe. But a list of tracks on iTunes? Nope.

Maybe it is a stranded concept. In the era of digital music the idea of a “record” or an “album” seems quaint or even archaic. How long until artists just start releasing only singles? All killer and no filler.

“Mixtape” is another word that should be gone, but has received new cultural relevance. The original mixtape was what you created on a tape deck in junior high to woo that cute girl in Math class with smoov tracks like “Get out of my dreams and into my car.”

Hip-hop progenitors like Afrika Bambaata made mixed tapes of their performances to spread the word, before major record labels got involved. The mixtape continues today as both CDs (another word headed to the dustbin of history) and compilations.

I get frustrated with the cranky language purists out there who lament the status of language and the use of text-terms in everyday life. Get over yourself. Language evolves as society evolves. This is not a bad thing. There is a reason we don’t speak in Shakespearian language today.

But some words refuse to die.

These are just a few examples. What are some other stranded words?

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