Word Geekery: Anachronistic Idioms

My baby boy says “Ring Ring” whenever he wants to play with my cell phone. Thing is, none of the cell phones in my house actually ring. One plays techno music, one has a recording of my older son calling us to the phone, the third plays the default tones from the manufacturer.

Practically no phones ring anymore, and yet we still say “ring tone” and “the phone is ringing.” Brits offer to “ring you up” when they mean to call your phone.

On the same track, people still sometimes say “drop a dime”…despite the fact that pay phones are nearly extinct, and none of the scattered survivors will work for less than 50 cents.

And what about “Disc Jockeys” — known to the kids as DJs? If you’re talking about the DJ at your local house party, he still uses discs…but only because happy coincidence makes CDs topologically similar to the vinyl LPs of the era that birthed the term. Radio DJs don’t even use those — they have high-tech sound files accessed by clicking a mouse. Nary a disc to be found anymore.

A subspecies of this linguistic oddness comes from some of our older relatives. Ever hear a grandfather talk about fighting the “Japs” or the “Gooks” during his term of service, or a grandmother tell you a recent good deed was “mighty white of you,” or have no problem with being called “the little woman?” They mean no harm, but their children look embarrassed and jaws drop on the grandchildrens’ guests.

Language moves and evolves with time. Sometimes it shows that our culture has changed for the better. Other times it’s a difference in fashion, or a shift in technology.

I’d love to hear more. Alert readers, comment in with your own anachronistic idioms.

Thanks for listening.


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