Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rhapsody on Somebody Else's Superior Vocabulary, Part 3

Technology dates us and the imprint is language. George called it an "icebox." I still refer to "records" that I own when in fact I'm referring to CDs. Some expressions endure though they make less and less sense over time (like the people who use them): "waiting by the phone." Now we cannot but wait by the phone. The only exception is the young sot, the free man, stumbling down Valencia Street, who is too drunk when he leaves the house to remember his cell. Such a nice double-entendre there, even if you refuse to sentimentalize the unwired, the state of nature, the alcoholic. Technology hasn't made us any happier, they say. The slapstick terrorists converged to destroy a data center, but nobody took them seriously. "We have TNT," they warned people who continued their cell phone conversations, their IM chats, their file transfers. But TNT is just slightly older technology, trinitrotoluene, with hard "i"s, nails in a bomb, like the erections implicit in "sodomite" and "catamite." Yesterday I alternated between "African American" and "black" when describing the suspects to the cops. These kids had thrown a stink bomb down the hill and hit an Indian guy walking with his two young daughters. His pants smoked and his skin burned. I immediately picked up my cell and called 911. The operator, a black woman, was the first to ask me the suspects' race. "African American," I told her.

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