The passage of time

In his days at the chalk-face, Malcom would have to illustrate how language changes over time. His quick-and-easy method was to use the word “phonograph”. Most students will have no awareness of Thomas A. Edison’s name for his instrument for automatically recording and reproducing sound,which the OED authoritatively states is “(now hist.)“. The phonograph became the record-player, the pick-up, the Dansette of Malcolm’s schooldays, the stereo, the quad, the Walkman and a whole series of patent names, until it disappeared totally into the technology of the smartphone. Somewhere along the way even the most reluctant (male) student would contribute to the word-game by showing knowledge of the latest development. Success: point made.

Where’s that?

Even Malcolm was taken aback to read accounts of the disruption to Heathrow-bound flights which led to passengers being stranded at “an airport in the County Clare”.

That’s Shannon, my sub-editorial friend. Try it again —  Shannon.

Between the late 1940s and the early 1960s it was the normal stop-over for transAtlantic flights. Later, Aeroflot used the airport to refuel flights to and from the Americas.

So, here’s an experiment to try at home: do a Google or Bing web-search for images of “Shannon”. In the first hundred or two, the main return is leggy and busty lovelies.

We have here an illustration of “Shannon’s theorem”. Claude Elwood Shannon (1916–2001) was an American mathematician. His seminal thesis posited concepts that are the origin of much information theory. One aspect of his “theorem” amounts to how much “interference” can be accepted before a message becomes hopelessly corrupted and beyond understanding.

Quite frankly, “an airport in the County Clare” (rather than “Shannon”) is just such an exercise in obfuscation.



Filed under air travel., culture, education, Ireland

4 responses to “The passage of time

  1. Doubting Thomas

    In your description of the drift of words to the new from phonograph, you did miss out gramophone. I only mention this to puff the excellent Not the Nine o’Clock News sketch on this where Mel Smith makes mock of Rowan Atkinson for wanting a new gramophone. (or was it the other way round?)

  2. Malcolm Redfellow

    Slippery things, words.

  3. Doubting Thomas

    Like the eels that time wounds?

  4. Malcolm Redfellow

    Indeed, Doubting Thomas. Nice one.

    I’m about to start again on Tristram Shandy (the very tasty Visual Editions effort, preface by Will Self), so I’ll need a day or two to get up to your speed in advanced linguistic juggling.

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