Thursday, August 14, 2008

Touch Me Challenge

While at the hotel mentioned in my last post I had sort of a dissonant experience. I opened the hotel guide to see what was available, and next to such things as room service was "touch 6120." It actually took me a while to process what that meant. It seemed a little - I don't know - ostentatious? I wouldn't have given a second thought to seeing "dial 6120," but as I thought about it, I realized nobody DIALS a phone anymore. The phone in my room, afterall, was a touchtone phone. I guess we don't "dial somebody up" anymore, we "touch them up" (?).At lunch that day a colleague mentioned that she wasn't sure what to put on her syllabus in terms of format for papers. She has always put that they must be "typed." What does that mean? Many young people have never seen a typewriter, which is where that word comes from. What should she say? "All papers must be 'computer-processed'." "All papers must be 'keyboarded'." What new word will better fit the technology?In talking with other teachers recently, it came up that we assume students know what "clockwise" and "counter-clockwise" mean, but some of our students have only ever had digital clocks. The older generation takes those words for granted and can easily relate and understand. Will we soon have a generation that cannot follow those directions, or will those words meaningfully remain in the vocabulary yet totally disconnected from their origin?This does happen. We have a tradition of a groom carrying his bride over the "threshold." WHY is it called a "threshold?" It has a meaningful origin but has become totally disconnected from that origin.
CHALLENGE:

1) Do you know what a threshold is in this context, and do you know why it is called a threshold?

2) Can you think of any other words like "type," "dial," and "clockwise" that may remain in the vocabulary but will soon be divorced from their origin and their genuine meaning?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

My mind is dead for this is my second week back to school, first with students.

However the entry reminded my of a conversation I had with Juliana (10 years old) about phones having cords. She couldn't imagine having to sit/stand next to a phone base for the handset would be attached by a cord.

Pay phones also seem to be a thing of the past. I was at MJC West last year with some students on a tour and was amazed how Founders Hall had NOT changed except for the holes in the walls where pay phones had been yanked out. So I guess our parents telling us to make sure to have a dime to make a call doesn't apply either.

Heidi said...

Ooh! Good observation! I had noticed that too but forgotten. We are not a cell phone family, so we are in trouble if there are no pay phones around and we have an emergency away from home (although, of course anyone else nearby will have a cell phone!).

We actually had experience with the cord issue. When David had his stroke and Anthony called 911, Anthony was in the kitchen on our phone with a cord. David was on the floor down in our office. The operator was asking Anthony questions about David (in terms of how he looked, I think). When Anthony said, "I don't know; I can't see him," the 911 operator said, "Doesn't the phone GO THERE?"

Well, no, ours didn't.

By that time I was up and on a cordless and took over.

I still remember when David gave me my first cordless phone on the Mother's Day after Anthony was born to make things easier for me while caring for a baby. I thought that was the most amazing thing!

My how times have changed!

nethe said...

I admit it. I had to cheat. I googled “origin of word threshold”. The answer I found (http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/96226) made the Scandinavian word (almost the same in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian) understandable, though it is a much more condensed word, but still made up of thresh (“terske”) and hold (“skel”, meaning a devider) forming “terskel”.

nethe said...

Uh! Just remembered a saying in Danish. When someone goes on and one about something, we say "Hey, no need to thresh long-stubble on it" (terske lang-halm), meaning no need to thresh the stubble when the seeds have left it.
Guess not many young people know how they threshed corn and cerial in the old days?

nethe said...

Uh I like these of word-things Heidi! Try desperately to make more words come to mind that will soon be divorced from their original meaning...
But now I just remember a term in Danish that in a few decades have changed it´s meaning completely. From a negatively charged meaning to a positive one. It´s "bear favour", which originally stems from one of the fables of Jean de La Fontaine, about a bear that in a well meant but fatal act smacks a fly off his sleeping master’s head and kills him. People don´t remember the reason for the term "bear favour" being a well-meant disservice , and takes it to mean something big, like a bear, a really big favour. A good thing.
Such things annoy me. You can end up in really frustrating conversations when you miss each other’s meaning entirely…

more words... thinging of more words

Heidi said...

I love all these comments! I wish I didn't have to run off to work, because I just want to talk about language! As soon as I can I'll come back and comment on the comments! Off I go!