Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Real Duesy

It was an historical drama set in a much earlier time. In a throwaway line, a minor character referred to a impressive obstacle as "a real doozy."

That stuck in my craw. The slang term, "doozy," first entered the lexicon as "Duesy," being an admiring reference to the products of the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, which were the high-performance muscle cars of their day. This expression would have had no meaning for anyone living before the 20th century. In the context of that particular historical drama, it was, at that moment, a jarring anachronism.

Words are my tools, and my toys. I don't advocate a slavish adherence to historically correct language in your fiction, as after all you are writing for a contemporary audience and need to be understood, but do give a thought from time to time to your character's use of idiomatic expressions. When was the last time you actually "dialed" a phone call? When was the last time your phone actually "rang?" (Actually, mine does all the time, but only because I selected an audio sample of an old mechanical phone ringing to use as the ring tone.)

I'm particularly fascinated by the way colloquial English has evolved in response to technology. The evolution continues to this day, and can be presumed to continue on into the future. If you don't believe that, you've obviously never gotten up a head of steam only to get derailed when you found you were on the wrong track, or gone off half-cocked when your brilliant idea turned out to be just a flash in the pan.

That's today's exercise. What's your favorite technologically-sourced idiomatic expression? What words are in your vocabulary today that would have made no sense at all to a fluent and educated English-speaker of 50 years ago? And if you're feeling really ambitious, what words do you think might be in the lexicon in another 50 years, based on the social and technological trends you see around you today?