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I Love It When You Talk Retro

Not long ago, I used the expression “sounds like a broken record” regarding a classmate of my 10 yr old. He had been repeating the same issue over and over in class, and that simile seemed accurate. But my daughter, never having seen a record asked what that expression even meant. Hmmm.
I call a business associate and her voice mail greeting suggests that to have the call transferred, I can “dial zero” to get the operator, but to my younger coworkers, who may have never seen a rotary phone, what does ‘dial’ even mean?
Two years or so ago, when the higher definition DVDs were either HD or BlueRay, I remarked that this reminded me of the Beta/VHS war. That sure did separate those of us over 30 or so from those younger.
On the subject of video tape, I bought my first VCR in 1981, so I was used to saying “tape a show” to mean I was recording it. But for the last few years, it’s a DVR (a TiVo digital video recorder) and there is no tape involved.
I can list a great number of these, expressions that came into the language, and some which are slipping away. So when I heard Brooke Gladstone (Host of On The Media) interview the author of I Love It When You Talk Retro, Ralph Keys, I knew this was a book I had to pick up.


Retro offers us not only the examples that I mention above, but goes further back in time to offer the origins of a wealth of expression that we use, or often hear, but may not know where or how they came to be. I knew the current use of the expression “Drink the Kool-Aid” (a phrase meaning blind allegiance), but I hadn’t known that the drink in Jonestown wasn’t Kool-Aid, but Flavor Aid, a knockoff beverage. Keyes offers chapter by chapter, retroterms from law enforcement, movies, politics, and many other areas of life. Toward the end of the book, you realize there are so many expressions, that one book just scratches the surface, a comprehensive discussion would take an encyclopedia (uh, wikipedia for you under 30 readers) to organize.
I often find myself offering up a word or phrase origin when the conversation permits. For example, we all know what paparazzi are, but did you know that the term came from the 1960 film La Dolce Vita by Frederico Fellini? In that film appears a news photographer named Paparazzo, and thus the word made it into the language. (This is my own offering here, it did not make its way into the book.) If you have any interest in “the forgotten origins of American speech” this is a book worth reserving at your library.

  • Jill (Creative Cafe) July 15, 2009, 7:27 pm

    Hey Joe

    This post is fascinating. There is a Betamax antique tapedeck stored upstairs that my friend swears he is going to get going and translate into more up to date format. But the main point is that we having a living language which adapts to current trends as well as keeping history alive.

    Bye for Now

  • Augustine July 16, 2009, 11:34 am

    I wonder about the modern equivalents, such as “corrupted MP3” for “broken record”… 🙂

  • JOE July 16, 2009, 1:53 pm

    Do MP3s keep ‘skipping’ or repeating? Hmmm…. When CDs became popular, I wondered how the DJs would create that scratching sound so common for the time (early 80s). I’m sure we have our own terms in the making, we’ll see.

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