Goodbye ‘On Your Radar’

Early gramaphone showing needle in groove


With the state of technology so goes our shorthand language expressions. Here’s some phrases that I’ll miss and others that I’d sooner forget.

With the decline of vinyl records went an expression I will sorely miss: in the groove. In the groove meant you were with it and resembled today’s sports-derived expression in the zone. I imagine that the expression was derived from the mechanical process required to hear the sound. In order to hear a spinning, long playing album properly the needle had to fit securely in the groove. The needle might not fit in the groove because the tracking force was set improperly or perhaps the record was warped. The warping sound was amusing at times, but mostly annoying because of pitch changes without connection to the melody. I never really minded the pops and clicks.

Towards the end of the vinyl era records got so thin you could whip them back and forth and they’d make a sound like flexing a saw. Now that was groovy. I imagine the expression had some connection to being in the groove, but I can’t be certain as to the phrase’s derivation so let’s skip to another phrase that may be losing traction.

Staying on your radar. Radar certainly isn’t going to go away like vinyl did.  Even with improved stealth paint or stealthy shapes the technology will continued to be used. But the impact of the phrases that include radar, for example, under the radar will certainly become less visible.

Now I can foresee a word morph or perhaps a mash-up replacing radar growing out of the popular use of GPS.

GPS is an acronym that is no longer solely under the domain of the digerati.  People use the tool, frequently part of an app, for finding other people and places to go. Marketers tap-in to your GPS embedded device and use it to find you when you check-in at Foursquare or search to satisfy your hunger for a slice of pizza via AroundMe.

But what if you don’t seek anything, don’t want to be found or just want to be alone? A phrase is going to come along which may replace off-the-grid. When you’re off-the-grid you’re definitely off anybody’s radar. Off-the-grid is a phrase that has both positive and negative associations.

High voltage towers

I  don’t have positive feelings about the word grid. Grid to me means the nation’s electrical grid which is a high voltage direct current. Direct current, unlike alternating current which flows through the wires in our offices and houses and must be converted back to direct current to run our computer and other useful contraptions, is not human friendly. Think electrocution which occurs when you become part of a direct current circuit.  Direct current as found at your fuse box can grab you and hold until you expire. Nightmares about electrocution are on the same anguish level as drowning and are kin to endless falling.

On the other hand, I understand that being off-the-grid can also have a positive association to people who see the grid as being part of a communications network.  To those fortunate few who remain unthreatened by the prospect of severing connections, the idea that you are in a place where you can’t be reached is a good thing. You choose to go camping and maybe you are surrounded by mountains that you don’t see as signal impediments. Maybe the answer is dump the word grid for people like me.

Pushing on. I never felt any sense of loss or the ability to express myself when tech phrases like let’s interface or let’s take this off-line were initially shunned and then dropped from conversational shorthand. I never liked the reapplication to human of words applied to machines. What was this use meant to accomplish? Don’t understand how I feel about it?  Recall the unearthly sounds Star Trek’s Spock made when he mind-melded; his speech slowed down like a long playing record not quite up to speed.

Oddly enough my last expression in decline came from a tweet. I’ve been grieving the passing of the expression I’ll pencil you in.  For me the expression had significant visual and emotional impact because there were a number of distinct, required steps involved. Let’s recall them together: taking out your day planner, opening to a page, finding the date and time and writing an entry which may require some thought before erasure or being crossed out and written over. There was no single, on screen delete button to press followed by the ominous warning: “Are you sure?”

When you penciled someone in you had to mean it.

To be continued…

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3 Responses

  1. Leigh Beckett on October 26, 2011, 3:00 pm Reply

    Are you sure the power grid runs DC. I know that ‘over-the-pond’ mains electricity is generated and transmitted at 30Kv AC and simply ‘stepped-down’ to 240v AC for domestic use. While we are two nations ‘separated-by-a-common-language’, I can’t imagine our basic technologies are so different.

    Presumably, since there is a pan-Euro power grid, all power generation ‘over-there’ must be the same – otherwise the various national power generating systems simply wouldn’t ‘dove-tail’.

    Standards and consistency – they’re the glue that makes the tech world ‘hang-together’. This may be ‘out-of-left-field’ but even ‘blue-sky’ and ‘green-field’ projects eventually have to conform to some sort of standards.


    • Donald Schwartz on October 26, 2011, 6:54 pm Author Reply

      1) High-voltage direct-current (HVDC) technology is used only for very long distances (typically greater than 400 miles, or 600 km)
      2) Transmission lines, when interconnected with each other, become high-voltage transmission networks. In the US, these are typically referred to as “power grids” or just “the grid”, while in the UK the network is known as the “national grid.”

  2. Pingback:Goodbye ‘On Your Radar’ | Technology & Business - Acronyms, Buzz Words, Tired Phrases, Word Abuse |

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