The Opposite of a Smart Phone

Originally posted on the Tembua website on May 1, 2010.

The speaker listed the features available on the new smart phone he was demonstrating. Then he added, “But these can also be accessed with a dumb phone.”

I looked up from my notes, expecting a laugh from the group. He wasn’t joking. No one else even appeared to notice the term. Is “dumb phone” the new retronym for a cell phone that does nothing but make calls?

Technology introduces updated versions of current devices, forcing us to somehow differentiate between the old version and the new. When electric typewriters were introduced decades ago, the machines that had been in use for years as simply ”typewriters” became ”manual typewriters.” As cordless phones became common, phones with the headsets tied to the base can now be referred to as both ”tethered” and ”corded.” The proliferation of cell phones gave rise to the term ”land lines.” Today it’s also common to say, ”I sent it by snail mail,” email being one of many other options.

Gestures also need to keep up with technology. I still occasionally see the old telephone gesture (left hand clenched by left ear, right index finger circling), but much more common is thumb and pinky extended with curled fingers held to side of cocked head. (But we still say ”dialed the phone”!)

During a recent live performance of Oklahoma!, we chuckled at the cowboy character who sang about the famous surrey with the fringe on top, “With isinglass curtains you can roll right down/ In case there’s a change in the weather.” He gripped an imaginary handle by his side and circled it as if to roll down a manual car window. No one had told him that the isinglass curtains would be rolled up and down like a window shade with a broken spring depending on the weather.

Have you heard new retronyms or seen gestures that reference old technology? Let me know!


About tembua

Tembua: The Precision Language Solution provides comprehensive linguistic services for 100 languages to private industry and government agencies on a global scale. Services include document and website translation and localization; conference and 24/7 telephonic interpretation; glossary development; proofreading, text adaptation, editing, multilingual design and DTP; transcription; technical / custom authoring editing, foreign search engine optimization; translation memory management; subtitling.
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