Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Abbreviations, Acronyms and Signifiers

It’s bad enough that I don’t know how anything works but I'd like to think I still speak the common tongue and, at least, know what I don’t know.

I was just told what Wi-Fi means. I’d been seeing it all over town but all I knew is that my life hadn’t changed because of my ignorance. Since the sign had appeared in eateries I thought it referred to waffles or some new sushi. And now I know.

Wi- Fi "refers to wireless fidelity; networking technology that allows computers and other devices to communicate over a wireless signal," according to TechTerms. Wi-Fi communication is between the device and a router, which is connected to a modem that provides access to the Internet for connected devices. Wi-Fi is now used in many cell phones and other mobile devices.

I'm glad we've cleared that up.

One sure sign that the world is passing me by is when abbreviations appear and I haven’t the slightest idea what they mean…yet I go for six months or even 65 years faking it. The meaning slowly becomes clear with repeated usage until I get curious enough to Google the derivations.

The most recent one is TMZ. I finally figured out it refers to celebrities but why those letters? And the answer comes up, Thirty Mile Zone, which originated in the 1960's. Due to the growth of on location shoots, studios and various talent guilds established a thirty mile zone, outside of which shooting is considered to be a location shoot, requiring per diems and other travel and living expenses to be paid. The center of the zone was around the old offices of The Association of Motion Pictures and Television Producers, where everything happens. Everything, that is, if you care about that universe….as we must.

The oldest of these is D-Day. I lived through that summer day in 1944 as well as V-J Day. Now that was easy. ..victory over Japan but D-Day always eluded me. Apparently I’ve not been alone.

Many explanations have been given for the meaning of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the day the Allies invaded Normandy from England during World War II. The Army has said that it is an alliteration, as in H-Hour. Others say the first D in the word also stands for day. The French maintain the D means disembarkation, still others say debarkation, and the more poetic insist D-Day is short for day of decision. General Eisenhower said that any amphibious operation has a departed date; therefore the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.

Words and signifiers seem to be entering our language with increasing rapidity….and possibly exiting it just as fast. It took me a few years to catch up with bling and wonk. I notice that spell-check still hasn’t admitted the former into its lexicon so I don’t feel too bad about that. I was even late for 24/7.

I’ve finally mastered IMHO, BTW and LOL. We live in global shorthand. I’m glad we’re moving toward universality but we’ve traded away a nuanced vocabulary. I’m reminded of the story about a group of comedians who met regularly and knew each others material so well they numbered the jokes. One fellow stands up and says, 43. Nobody laughed. What’s wrong he asked and was told he didn’t tell it so well.

It’s tough getting old. My impulse is to look backwards into the illusion of historical clarity rather ahead into the dystopia. The present is undecipherable enough. I’m running as fast as I can just to stay still.

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