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story.lead_photo.caption The logo of the Victrola Co., from an ad in the Aug. 28, 1910, Arkansas Democrat, shows a dog listening to "His Master's Voice." (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

One strange side effect of technology is that words and phrases become outdated, sometimes while we're watching.

My grandmother listened to music on a Victrola. She turned a handle that caused the turntable to go around. The needle on the phonograph record elicited the sound, which then came from a megaphone-like cone.

Even the description uses some aging words.

My parents listened to a hi-fi. "Hi-fi" was short for "high fidelity." That meant that the sound created was faithful to the original. No winding was involved, and music came out of speakers.

I have a stereo. I hit a couple of buttons and turn some knobs, and the music begins.

I won't go through all the iterations of music sources available today — I'm not even caught up on all of them — but the vocabulary of listening has changed a lot in 50 years.

Here are a few other phrases losing their timeliness:

Broken record

Yes, records and albums still are around. But they're not as common as they were in 1940, when the phrase became popular. The original "broken record" sound occurred when a phonograph needle got stuck in a record groove, and a brief segment would play again and again. If you have a kid, a broken record might sound like this: "Can we watch Frozen now? Can we watch Frozen? Can we watch Frozen now? Can we?"

Carbon copy

This one is both current and old. I don't think many people use that messy blue carbon paper to get a duplicate. But the phrase is used in the email world. You ask a co-worker to "cc" you on an email. Isn't it crazy that it's short for "carbon copy"?

Rolling up the car windows

A friend told me the other day that he wanted to roll up the windows, and I couldn't remember the last time I had used a handle rather than a switch to lower or raise a car window.

Dialing the phone

Few of us have dial phones anymore. But we still hear people say they dialed a phone number.

Back to the drawing board

I'm not sure whether drawing boards still exist. But they have to be different from the ones that helped originate the phrase.


I've been in a classroom only a few times in the past 25 years. I am always amazed when I see that the blackboard has been replaced by a whiteboard. Does this mean the demise of "chalk" will soon follow?

Run out of steam

This phrase is from the age of steam engines, when no steam meant no power. I don't think anyone uses it in the literal sense anymore.

On tape

Tapes are not faring well in the 21st century. Cassette tapes are all but dead. Some TV promos may tease with something that has been "caught on tape." Rewinding a VHS tape is an old concept.

We rarely hear, "Film at 11!" Film is still used on many movies, but not as much as it once was.


This process of words and phrases dying off is often random, but it sometimes gets a push. Abridged dictionaries in book form say they need to remove words to make room for new ones.

Some people were dismayed a while back when Oxford University Press revealed some words that would be removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The editors said the words had lost their relevance to today's children. Some of the words surprised me: acorn, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, dandelion, fern, ivy, otter, pasture and willow.

Some of the words replacing them are understandable but still sad: attachment, blog, celebrity, chatroom, MP3 player and voicemail.

Technology isn't the only thing causing words to die off.

Sometimes people stop using words as often as they once did, and dictionary editors contemplate ditching some of those words. A couple of years back, the Collins Dictionary editors considered the value of some words:


It means producing cold, but it sounds so much more magical. I'm sorry to see this word on the list because, though I had not heard it, I love it.


This is the research and treatment of mental illness. I think a better word can be found.


This sounds like something you'd use to observe dinosaurs, but it's not. It was a device used to study the crystal makeup of minerals.

I think dictionary editors are more willing to announce the words they are adding than the words they are letting go.

Sources: Free Dictionary,, The Guardian, Idiom Site, Phrase Finder, Merriam-Webster, Washington Post, New Statesman


Style on 06/03/2019

Print Headline: Evolution adds, takes words away

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