Dial a phone

Even though the English language is always evolving, it’s not fast enough to keep up with technology. In fact, it’s gotten positively left behind in the 21st century. We use all sorts of words and phrases that don’t make sense on the face of them. They used to make sense, but most of the meaning has been sucked out of them since technology has taken over. Let’s take a look at some words that really don’t mean what they used to.

Some words are obsolete

A computer used to be a person engaged in computation. Since that person was replaced by a machine, now the machine has that name.

A telephone, that thing that you never leave the house without, is a device for speaking to people over distance, according to its name. Yet how many people can go days at a time only texting or browsing the internet?

The internet was designed to be an interconnected way of getting to multiple networks. Yeah it still kind of is but you think of it as a thing, not a set of things.

A monitor by its name means something you use to watch something else. Yeah you do that but it’s also the way you do everything else.

A keyboard was originally used in music. It was literally a board where you could press different levers that made sounds in different keys, or pitches.

A mouse originally looked a lot like a rodent, with a wide flat back end that had a tail-like cable coming out of it.

A tablet was originally a piece of wood which people used to carry around to mark on, when they didn’t have a table. It was a little table, a “table-ette.”

A printer is a device that puts words and pictures on paper, but it doesn’t press the ink into that paper. The word “print” comes from a word meaning “to press.”

A hard disc can be solid state, meaning there’s nothing disc-shaped within it.

A battery isn’t really a single thing. It’s a group of things, specifically things that are all set to fire together like guns. It used to take dozens of devices to provide enough electricity to do anything, hence the term “electrical battery.”

But wait there’s more.

It’s not just the stuff, it’s what we do with it.

We dial numbers on our phones even though phones haven’t had dials for about 50 years.

We call the remote control the clicker even though it doesn’t click and hasn’t in forever.

Rolling up the windows when it rains still makes sense even though our cars have motors that raise and lower the windows instead of rolling knobs.

Sometimes we send text messages that have nothing but pictures.

Drivers of electric cars still step on the gas pedal and talk about efficiency in miles per gallon.

Booting up or rebooting, something we do when our devices misbehave, comes from an old term, “bootstrap loader” which in turn comes from an even older term for being self-motivated, “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

Of course this is only a short list. What are your favorite ways that old words and phrases have been used in new ways to describe our modern life?


About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.