Anachronistic Misnomers

As a writer, I am very interested in words and phrases, and one thing that has always fascinated me are those leftover words and phrases from times gone by that we still use, even though either a) we have no idea what they mean, or b) they no longer apply.  Words like overwhelm and underwhelm, which we use despite the fact that the verb “to whelm” (meaning to engulf, submerge, or bury) has fallen out of use.  Or saying things like “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” even though we rarely give horses as gifts these days, and I wouldn’t know to check their teeth, even if someone did give me one, although I do know it would be rude to do so.

I was talking on the phone with my father the other night, and we were discussing more modern things that we do, where we use an old term for how we used to do something and just keep applying it to how we do it now, nevermind that the term is no longer accurate.  Things like:
Rewinding – We all know what rewinding is.  It means to go backwards when you are watching a movie or a television show.  Right?  I mean, I guess.  But it actually refers to reels of tape or film, so when you wanted to go back to a part that had already passed, you literally had to re-wind the thing back onto its original spool in order to play it back a second time.  But then, why does my Blu-Ray player have a “rewind” button?  It makes no sense.  Nobody is winding anything!

Dialing the Phone – Do you know what a dial is?  It’s a disk with numbers on it that you turn to make a phone call.  So when you “dialed the phone” it meant you were using such a device.  These days the updated definition for dialing is “using the telephone,” because even though the phones don’t have dials on them anymore, we still use the old terminology.  I guess pushing the phone just isn’t as clear.  And buttoning the phone sounds like you are getting it dressed.

Pumping Gas – Here’s a debatable one for you, and you may not agree with me on this point, but we really don’t “pump” gas anymore.  Some of the earliest gas pumps had actual, you know, hand pumps, and to get your gas you actually had to pump them.  You pumped gas the same way you might pump up your bike tire today.  Where you could argue with me here is that modern gas pumps do in fact have internal pumps that they use to get the gas up from the tank and into your car, so I suppose by holding onto that handle you are, in a way, operating a pump, but it sure isn’t pumping the way people used to pump.  When I “pump gas” I generally don’t have to do anything except hold the thing, and sometimes I don’t even have to do that!

Turning Things On – Have you ever turned on your television, or your computer?  Did you actually turn anything?  No, of course not.  They don’t make things that turn anymore.  I suppose if you have a dimmer switch it is conceivable that you literally turn your lights on, but most of our knobs and dials have been replaced with switches and buttons.  “Turning” lights on originated from pre-electric gas lamps anyway, when you turned them up or down with a turnable knob.  These days we don’t turn anything, and yet the old way of saying it is still alive and well.

Rolling Down Windows – These are not gone completely yet. You can still find some older cars without power windows that require you to roll them down.  But most cars have a little button now, and if you have one of those cars with power windows, I’ll bet you still say that you are rolling your windows down, despite the lack of any sort of circular cranking motion.

Those are the examples that I could think of at this very moment, but I’m sure there are others.  Can you think of any?  Let me know in the comments.  As I said, I find this way more interesting than it probably is, but I would love to figure out as many of these anachronistic misnomers as I can!

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