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DOEP (Daily Open-Ended Puzzle) (intermittent): Names now wrong

This is from Michael O’Connor Clarke who recalls trying to explain why pipe cleaners are called “pipe cleaners” to a six year old who had never seen anyone smoking. He wonders if there are “other examples of things still in everyday use whose names refer back to functions long since rendered obsolete.” (A quibble: Pipe cleaners are still used to clean pipes, just not as often as twenty years ago.)

Keep in mind that even though this is supposedly an open-ended puzzle, I’m not looking for words whose etymology refers to something obsolete, but words that have current plain-text meanings unrelated to their current use. So the fact that I picked up from my parents the habit of occasionally referring to a refrigerator as an “icebox” doesn’t count because that does not refer to its use, and neither does the quasi-fact that “testify” comes from the Roman practice of men holding their testicles when giving evidence in court. A telephone “dial” is also not a great example because it doesn’t refer to what it’s used for but to how it’s used.

A perfect example would be … ? [Tags:]

10 Responses to “DOEP (Daily Open-Ended Puzzle) (intermittent): Names now wrong”

  1. In the UK there is a very large retailer that sells mobile phones (cells) called Carphone Warehouse. The company was set up when mobile telephony meant a suitcase sized phone that sat just behind the gear stick powered by the car battery. Despite the fact that carphones are long gone no one bats an eyelid at the name of the business.

  2. American’s asking for a bathroom rarely require a room with a bath.

    Few speeding youngsters in the UK are familiar with antique bellows cameras, and yet this is the icon used on the road sign to indicate to them that their excess speed will be visually recorded.

  3. Lots of young programmers use the term “carriage return” every day, but how many pause for thought to reflect on the Bing-Whoosh-Whack of an Underwood?

  4. Hello David:

    Everyday we all use the abbreviations “CC:” and/or “BCC:” when we send e-mail, but obviously carbon paper is not used anymore. Anyway, what would a blind carbon copy look like if you still were using a typewriter to produce a letter with copies (ugh!). Maybe we should refer to it as a “clone copy,” or “courtesy copy.”

    You could use “C:,” but then people would think that your e-mail message is going to be stored on that particular drive of your computer.

    Even the word “scroll” used as a verb, as we all know, has its origin in that antiquated paper thing with two dowels.

    When people use the cliche, “dead as a doornail,” I wonder why is this object chosen to represent the ultimate metaphor for inaminateness. When did people use doornails? Or, “pot calling the kettle black.” Go into Home Depot and ask for a kettle, and see what kind of look you get.

  5. Go into Home Depot and ask for a kettle, and see what kind of look you get.

    Not quite with you there. What do you use to make the tea? (Or the coffee, come to that.)

    The C: drive is something of a living fossil in itself. I haven’t seriously used an A: drive in ages, and it’s at least ten years since I last saw a physical B: drive.

  6. Phil, I’m with you about kettle. It’s what I call the thing we heat up water in. In the phrase “The pot calling the kettle black,” you’re more likely to get the fisheye from people for using “black” as an insult.

  7. Okay, my goof.

    The thing that antiquates this saying is the blackening that takes place when you cook over a wood fire. The image that comes to mind when I hear that phrase is a cast iron kettle hanging from an iron bar in one of these big kitchen fireplaces from colonial Williamsburg. This also proves that I’m unqualified to work at Home Depot.

    What prompted me to think of this was a cable commenter who used this phrase to describe the Clinton/Condi exchange about getting Bin Laden. I thought this was in bad taste, and emphasizes the problem of using these out of date quips without stopping to think what you’re saying.

    So, I’ll give my own update of this phrase which will most probably need explaining 200 years from now: “It’s like Home Depot saying to the Florida Gators, ‘Hey guys, way too much orange.'”

  8. You might even need to be somewhat as careful in your use of ‘orange’ as ‘black’, e.g.

  9. “penknife” originally meant a knife used for sharpening quills used as pens.

  10. a car’s glove compartment, or worse yet, glove box, rarely holds gloves anymore (my grandmother did sometimes wear her “driving gloves”

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