Marilyn Englander: Anachronisms in the Lexicon

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Time marches on, leaving behind many outdated words and concepts. Marilyn Englander has this Perspective.

We took our 2-year-old friend on an outing to the local small airport one Saturday. As little planes took off and landed, we pointed to the fuel truck lumbering about. He’s filling up the gas tanks, we explained. The child looked confused, so we stammered — the truck is feeding the little planes. Then back home after our outing, he climbed out of his car seat and insisted we needed to plug in the car.

We labor with an old lexicon that is up against relentless changes in the way we live. Long faithful turns of phrase are increasingly foreign to young people.

Example: I was helping my 30-something English student prepare to take the driver’s license test. The question that utterly defeated us both was, “Which direction should a car move in a roundabout, clockwise or counter-clockwise?” To someone who has always lived in a digital world, the hands of a clock can seem as incomprehensible as a sundial was to me as a kid. The DMV needs to bring that test into the 21st century.

Pretty soon who will understand “find a pay phone” or “call a taxi,” “search for a plumber in the Yellow Pages” or “listen in on a party line?" I used to collect souvenir matchbooks but they hardly exist anymore, and in the homes of young professionals, it’s hard to find pen and paper to leave a note. We still say “carbon copy,” but never touch those glossy blue sheets inserted between the pages on—oh no!—a typewriter. And concepts of North/South/East/West are becoming muddled by the use of constantly-reorienting displays on GPS maps.

We certainly no longer enjoy Indian summer or go skiing at Squaw, offer a friend a penny for her thoughts, grab a morning paper on the way to the bus or carry change to drop in the parking meter.

Time moves along, washing away the old word-prints of yesterday with the turn of the tides.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.

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