Technology changes everything, from how we shop to how we stay in touch with friends. And it definitely changes the way we talk–just a few years ago phrases like “Facebook friends,” “trending on Twitter,” and “I can has more cheezburger?” didn’t even exist.
But with each new tech-savvy phrase that’s introduced, another technology-based idiom is retired–or should be. Taken literally, most idioms don’t make a lot of sense (think “Don’t have a cow, man”), but we all know what they mean. Thanks to the changes in technology, though, many of today’s idioms are about to go extinct–after all, who under 30 knows what a record player is? Or a landline?
1. “Sound like a broken record”
Want to feel old? Ask anyone born in the last 15 years what a record actually is. If you find the right teen, they might be able to tell you what a record looks like, and what it was used for. But good luck finding a kid today who’s ever touched a record–not to mention, who understands just how annoying it is to listen to the sk-sk-skipping sound of a truly broken record. Want to prove the point? Buy Justin Bieber’s latest song on vinyl and dig out your father’s record player. That oughta do it.
2. “Kodak moment”
You know it when you see it. Nope, I’m not talking about porn: I’m talking that picture-perfect moment you wish you could capture on film, the Kodak moment. But with Kodak filing for bankruptcy and shuttering services, it seems like we’re going to need a new name for those photo-ready moments. Hey, I hear the name Polaroid is available…or maybe not.
3. “Let’s see what develops”
Speaking of Polaroid, how about the joy of watching your (Polaroid) camera spit out an instant snapshot and watching as the image slowly comes to life? Those days are gone (though the company is trying to bring them back), as are the days of looking at any film to see what develops. “Let’s see what develops” has been used to describe forthcoming changes in life, people, relationships, and more. But today, we’re all about instant gratification, whether it’s with photos or life–we want to see the image instantly as it appears on screen.
4. “On the same wavelength”
Status: At Risk
Being on the same wavelength refers to two (or more) people listening to a radio transmission on one wavelength. But tell anyone under the age of 20 that you’re “on the same wavelength” and you’re likely to find that you’re suddenly not (on the same wavelength). The closest thing to a radio that young ‘uns get to these days is their iHeartRadio App.
5. “Front-page news”
Before the Internet, and before cable news stations and their round-the-clock coverage of breaking news, it was a simpler time, a time when the daily newspaper was important, and its front page carried the biggest stories of the day. Front-page news was a big deal; not so much anymore. Somehow, the phrase “trending topic on Twitter” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
6. “Hot off the press”
Yup, it used to be exciting to get something brand, spanking new. Something so fresh, it was “hot off the press.” But now, the printing press has joined the CRT monitor, rotary telephones, and cassette tapes in the annals of technologies pushed out by faster, more efficient, high-tech replacements.
7. “Got our wires crossed”
Status: At Risk
So, way back in the day we had something called wires. They were used to connect things, like phones and computers, to each other. And sometimes, they got mixed up, or “crossed,” making things very confusing. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, we may have our wires crossed. And while I don’t want to confuse you with any more old-fashioned talk, I should also tell you about lines. In a time even before wires, we had telephones and telegraphs that used lines. Sometimes, the operator would connect you to the wrong line, and then we’d have our lines crossed, and it would all be very confusing. Hard to understand, I know.
8. “Tune in” (or “Tune out”)
Sometimes I have trouble paying attention to my editor, so I just tune out when he’s talking. I have to try really hard to tune in to what he’s saying. (Um, if you’re reading this, Mr. Editor, I’m totally kidding.) But the days of tuning your radio dial or, heaven forbid, your TV tuner, to the right station are long gone. Let’s hope that my attention-deficit problems are on their way out, too.
9. “Hit the airwaves”
It’s an election year, and Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are really hitting the airwaves to get their messages out. Or, well, they would be, if people still used antennas and the airwaves for their TV reception anymore. It’s a digital world now, so I guess we could say “they’re really hitting the underground cables,” or perhaps, “the fiber-optic communications network.” Yeah, that sounds weird.
10. “Nothing to write home about”
Hold on. I’m still laughing at the thought of anyone actually sitting down to write a letter these days, never mind taking the time to mail it home. I guess we could change this idiom to “nothing to text home about” or, better yet, “N/M“.
11. “Drop a dime”
The phrase “drop a dime” has a couple of different meanings. It can be used as a way of saying “get in touch,” but it also can be used to describe betraying someone, or turning them in to the cops. However you use the phrase, though, know this: It originated from a time when you had to drop a dime into a pay phone in order to make a phone call. If you don’t know what a pay phone is, well, I can’t talk to you.
12. “Ringing off the hook”
A long time ago, everybody had landlines in their houses. These phones had bells that rang when a call came in, and if the phone was ringing a lot, the handset could actually be jarred right off the hook. (The hook is the part that held the receiver, just FYI.) Today’s phones, of course, don’t have hooks or bells, and when you don’t want to accept a call, you can just send it to voicemail. So, yeah, you can see where this one is going.
13. “The boob tube”
Status: At Risk
When I think of hot summer days back in the 1980s, I think of lying on the couch, listening to the deafening roar of what was, at that time, a state-of-the-art air conditioning unit, and watching whatever was the best that the three TV stations were offering. Back in those days, we called the TV “the boob tube”–“boob” meant “stupid person” (because TV supposedly makes you stupid), and “tube” referred to the old vacuum tubes that TVs used to have inside them. Now that there are no more vacuum-tube TVs–and mostly just flat-screen HDTVs–I guess we’ll have to come up with a new name. Idiot box it is, then.
14. “The check is in the mail”
Status: At Risk
It used to be so easy to put off paying someone. Hey, the check is in the mail…blame it on the USPS if you haven’t received it yet. After all, you know how slow snail mail can be. But today, more often than not, we don’t even see paper checks. We get electronic transfers of funds, direct from one account to another. Unless you’re a struggling freelance writer, of course. I still have to listen to my editor tell me the check is “in the mail,” but next time I might not be so quick to believe him.
15. “Carbon copy”
I tried to tell my son that he was a carbon copy of his father, and he just stared at me. Then I tried to explain how we used to use carbon paper to make exact copies of written words or drawings. He just looked at me like I was crazy. I get it: Carbon paper is going the way of the ditto machine that my first-grade teacher used to make copies of worksheets for the class. Making exact copies is much easier these days, but telling my son that he’s a real Xerox of his father just doesn’t sound right.
Whenever I’m on the phone with my mom, she inevitably says “hold the line,” as a way of telling me to wait just a second. But since I’m calling her from a cell phone and she’s using a cordless phone, actual telephone lines in our phone call are few and far between. But that’s never going to stop her from using her favorite phrase. Ever.
18. “Balance the books”
Come on, no one uses an actual book to balance their budget anymore. Everything is done online or through accounting software these days. So, how soon until we can officially change this saying to something like, “Make sure your Quicken is in the black”?
19. “Phone it in”
Status: At Risk
We’ve all phoned it in at one time or another–that is, made a generally shoddy effort in an attempt to just barely meet the minimum requirements. This phrase originated from a kinder, gentler time, when we could simply call into a meeting, rather than showing up in person. But today, everyone is all about telecommuting and webcams and WebEx-ing, making it a whole lot harder to nap through a presentation. But it’s still possible–take my word for it.
20. “Push my buttons”
Status: At Risk
You know what really pushes my buttons? Buttons being phased out in favor of touchscreens. The new phrase: “You know what really tickles my touchscreen?”
Which brings up the question, what new phrases will tickle our touchscreens tomorrow?