Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Playing With Words

Yesterday the mail brought an SF magazine with a story of mine in a Slavic language I can't identify (Romanian? Czech?), and the June Asimov's with a story of mine that I can identify, "Call Back Yesterday." The title is from Shakespeare, that great repository for authors out of titular inspiration. This, combined with the paperwork for changing phone companies, got me thinking about words.

I am getting a different company for my "land line." Usually, names for things become shorter over time: "wireless connection" becomes "wi-fi," "ocean liner" becomes "liner." But my phone, which when I was a kid needed only one word because only one possible object could fit it, has now become a two-word descriptor, "land line," as other choices came into being (i.e., "cell phone"). Similarly, "egg donor mother" wasn't needed before surrogate pregnancy; before that, "mother" covered it all. And SF introduced the "Earth year" as a standard galactic time measure among planets with different rotation periods.

So what other current terms could, in the future, need additional descriptors when more choice is available? "Home body," when one can pour one's consciousness into a different body? In "Mirror Image," I used "human standard" to describe the symmetrical, four-limbed, air-breathing body that my characters return to after temporary sojourns in other, manufactured bodies suited to various planets' gravities and atmospheres. How about "starter body," on the lines of "starter marriage" -- also a term that didn't exist fifty years ago?

This could be a fun way to generate SF stories!


Sam said...

Personally, I favor listening to my daughter, 6, make up her songs and stories that sometime twist new technology around.
Reminds me of Bradbury's "The Veldt."
She comes up with ideas like going to the ATM machine to get money that hasn't been earned yet but supposedly will sometime in the future.
Some call it credit. I call it an ATM tapped into future-income potential - as in my daughter's view that she will grow up and earn the money someday but needs the cash now. So why can't the ATM tap into the future balance instead of a credit plan "trusting" you to pay the cash back? What can of worms would that leave her to play with?
Reminds me of social security.
Course, sure as shootin' as soon as I google one of her ideas someone like you has written something similar.

TheOFloinn said...

Then the long word becomes shorter? An autobus becomes a bus. Telecommunications becomes telecom becomes comm, a reference to a technology which we somehow do not confuse with the actual act of communicating.

A "cell phone" in Vienna is called a "handy," although they may spell it "handi." I am told that is common through Europe. Most folks I know call a cell phone a "cell," unless they specialiaze in histology, I suppose. In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, I saw a TV show instructing viewers in how to use a laptop computer, which they called a "lappy."

So I expect "host mother" to become "hostma" or even "hosma." Possibly "host," with context doing the rest of the heavy lifting.

What we will call our grandfather's second wife's half-brother, I have not a clue. "Uncle," I suppose; but there are languages that distinguish mother's brother from father's brother and even their order-of-birth. The Inuit have a word that means "one who has had intercourse with my mother." It is a compliment, like "uncle," and not the pejoritive that a certain 12-letter English word is.

There was a time when a vacuum cleaner was a "hoover" and our parents or grandparents would hoover up the carpet. Now we're back to vacuum cleaning or vacuuming.