Oh man. I’m feeling old. It’s not for the usual reasons, like when I start to sit and I pinch my pants at the knees and give them a little hike. Or when my wife (nine years my junior) catches me using a word like mimeograph when I mean Xerox.
I’m feeling dated because I keep noticing everyday words whose literal meanings have become obsolete in my lifetime.
For instance, it’s natural enough for kids today to fast-forward through commercials or a song. But when they rewind something, do they appreciate that there is no spool of tape to wind?
Likewise when we turn on the television, there is nothing to actually turn. TVs have shed their chunky knobs and dials. But the concept is at least preserved in plumbing, as when we turn on a faucet.
Not so when we dial a phone number. Though the word is probably safe, the notion of a rotary dial is forever lost on my son. Even worse, he will never know the sexy precision of a woman using a pencil eraser to dial a number. Bummer.
When he does start calling girls, Fox will have to get used to them hanging up on him. But there’s nothing to hang and nowhere to hang it: wall-mounted landlines are nearly extinct. Too bad, because there’s something to be said for the catharsis one feels when slamming a phone’s receiver in its cradle.
We own an iron but I have never used it. Neither has my wife, except once to get wax out of the couch. But every so often our friend Toby will visit from London and ask to use our iron. I’ll bet the irons in England are still actually made of iron, because everything in that country is old. But I don’t think that’s been the case here for awhile.
Sometimes when I email Toby, I’ll cc his mates Simon and Nigel. I like to tell them what to expect on Lost, because they get our TV shows like, ten years later. But I don’t actually make carbon copies, even though they’re still probably in widespread use in England. I’ll bet when my son is grown, cc will be a Final Jeopardy question. And James Franco will be the host.
Hmm, odds are that when my son must look up a word’s definition, he’ll do it exclusively online. He’ll never know the tactile pleasure of hefting a dictionary, riffling the pages, squinting at the tiny typography and literally looking for a word. All he’ll ever know is search.
And if, while at his keyboard, he uses the shift key, he will never associate the word with actually shifting a cartridge on a manual typewriter. It actually required some effort; you could totally sprain your pinky on the shift key. Serious.
Let’s see, what else? Oh here’s one: I call nearly every disagreeable person a douchebag. In fact, my son probably thinks it’s our upstairs neighbors’ last name, because I’m always marveling at “the Douchebags.”
But who really douches anymore? And who among them still uses bags? If I want to set a proper example for my son, I should get with the times and switch over to calling people douche-nozzles.
My mother-in-law hates my gratuitous use of offensive words. And even though she’s the only one who reads my blog regularly, she’s convinced such obscenities will bring me bad press.
Newspapers were in fact pressed in my lifetime. But now it’s anachronistic to say something is hot off the presses. Worse, a frantic newsman can no longer sincerely holler, “Stop the presses!” The printer is on the other end of the phone and he’s like, “Dude, you want me to press Cancel?”
My son will intuitively grasp press by its context. But he will never make that unconscious connection to the industrial printing press. And he’ll be puzzled by A.J. Liebling’s insight that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” The quote is now obsolete, since everyone with internet access effectively owns a press. But A.J. would doubtlessly have approved. That freedom is now widespread. And it even extends to douchebags.