Design and fashion shape language in ways most people don’t stop to notice. Here are a few dated concepts that somehow have survived the test of evolving styles and technology.
1. Hat tip. On the Intrawebz — among social-media socialites mostly — this has been condensed to “h/t.” It’s what we in the real media biz call sourcing: a nod to the person or organization providing whatever scoop, meme, funny video, scintillating blog post you’re sharing. My suspicion: Its recent popularity was inspired by the “Tip of the Hat / Wag of the Finger” segment on the The Colbert Report — but I don’t have that sourced. Or maybe it’s bad economic times reminding us how hats are held out to collect tips.
What strikes me as odd: The style of hat that men once congenially tipped was in vogue all the way back in the Edwardian age. With this usage, it zooms into the digital age. Although some men — primarily cowboys — still flick their brims in a kind gesture of recognition, respect, gratitude or greeting, hat-wearing has been in decline since the end of World War II.
Side note: In American Sign Language, the “hat tip” gesture signifies “man,” while drawing a bonnet’s chin strap across the chin signifies “woman.” Today’s deaf kids must be durn-tootin’ confused by that one.
2. Powder room. Doing lines in the ladies’ room aside — and I refer to both kinds of lines — powdering one’s nose seems a somewhat outdated rite. Refreshing her makeup was always a subterfuge for “meeting in the ladies’ room,” anyway, and what happens in the ladies’ room, stays in the ladies’ room, amiright, m’ladies? But day and night, as I watch endless episodes of whatever comes on HGTV — the modern gal’s counterpart to ESPN — I’m reminded that “half-bath” may be correct, but “powder room” has more polish.
3. Duck tape. When Ace Hardware stores started stocking all those decorator rolls of “duck tape” — sports teams, camo, tie-dyed, floral patterns — I chortled. Isn’t that cute? They are changing the spelling of duct tape! Joke’s on me, because the original spelling of this jack-of-all-trades tool is, in fact, “duck tape.” It was developed in 1942 using a cotton duck-cloth backing. It assumed the “duct tape” spelling, along with the gray sheen, only in 1950, when the Melvin A. Anderson Co. bought the rights and started using it primarily for sealing air duct systems. So what’s old definitely has some sticking power. (Who said blogging wasn’t educational?)
4. QWERTY. There is poetry in this shorthand reference to how keys are arranged on a typewriter — or “a keyboard,” for those born after 1990. (Yes, Virginia, I have friends who have not only never used a typewriter but have never seen one. There may even be some youngsters who would need a dictionary to get through this bullet point.) But the beloved 1873 layout is not universal. As technology advances and we find a need for more control keys, panic buttons, what-not, the QWERTY is as endangered as those quick brown foxes jumping over the lazy dogs. For instance, the Dvorak keyboard, patented in 1936. Muyah-ha-hah, if it gained traction, then you’d ALL be hunt-and-peck typists, like me.
5. BUtterfield 9 and PEnnsylvania 6-5000. Gone are the days when such obscure cultural references as these mean anything to those who text using predictive text. When texting was new, I pondered why phone designers clung to the arrangement of letters on numbers that once formed the genomic sequence for reaching out and touching someone. That is — arcane phone exchanges spurred the design of touch-tone phones, even though exchanges pretty much went out with rotary phones and a boom in urban population (too many land lines to maintain limited combinations of letters).
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you probably weren’t as frustrated as I was trying to spell-text on flip phones, especially when my “3” and “6” buttons would lose their paint from overuse. Predictive text SOMEWHAT eased this problem. I no longer had to type each letter. And now touchscreens mirror the QWERTY schematic, although the numbers still appear on the flat-screen keypad. WHY?!?!?!
Can’t help wondering: If the designers of touch-tone phones knew how much communication would be based on actual touching today, would they ever have arranged the letters this way?
(Cross fingers this post doesn’t make me seem so out-of-touch.)