Sunday, February 19, 2012

I'm going to hang up now....

My husband gave me this new phone for Valentine's Day.  He knew I wanted it for the kitchen, and he thought I was kind of crazy -- and the wonderful thing is that he got it for me anyhow. 
So we put it on the wall, and the kids were fascinated, like in Downton Abbey when they get the new phone installed and they all sit around staring at the strange contraption.

The kids wanted to know how it worked, and why it was tethered to the wall, and eventually, of course, they wanted to give it a spin.

My eight year old dialed a number.  

"What do I do now?" he asked.

"You put the phone to your ear."

"But what do I do to make the call?"

"Nothing.  You're done.  You've made it. Just put the phone to your ear."

That was about the oddest thing he'd ever heard, but he did it.  No need to locate and press any additional buttons like on our cordless.

When he was done, he asked, "What do I do now?"

"You hang up."

"I know. But how?"

"You hang up the phone."


"You put it back on the wall."

Light dawned.

"Ohhhh. You mean literally."

He's been using the word literally a lot since Ms. E, his second grade teacher, told the class that they sure took things literally.  Many people misuse the word literally, but not Ms. E's second graders, and not anyone's second graders, I bet, because taking adults literally leads to a good laugh for everyone, like, I imagine, when Ms. E says she is going to pull her hair out, or lose her mind. Any good second grade teacher will (after the laughter dies down) seize the learning opportunity to tell them they are being literal.  This is wonderful for the English language. You will not catch second graders saying something like "I was laughing so hard I literally peed my pants," unless they really did.

But, back to the hang up.

That hang up sure made me feel old. And the word dial, too, come to think of it. This new phone isn't a rotary phone, but it does look like one, with push-buttons in a little circle, and that was confounding enough for the kids. I wish it was an actual rotary phone, so they could experience the wonderfully mechanical sound of numbers swinging back where they belonged.

Hang up and dial. Those words made me wonder what other words are just words now, their literal meaning buried, their mechanics replaced with quiet, non-oiled, impossible-to-see technology?

And what words and phrases might join that list in the distant future?  Pocket change, maybe?


  1. How could anyone not comment on this. So delightful. It wasn't nostalgia for me, though it certainly could have been (I even endured party lines!) but more the wistful wondering about why we keep making our lives more complex while yearning for the simplicity of yore - literally.

    1. I wonder that everyday.... I want it both ways, sometimes, but I definitely lean towards the more simple. Thanks for reading and so nice to meet you and now to know you on Twitter :)

  2. What a beautifully written post! Your new phone, though I can't see it, reminds me of one my parents had when I was a teenager. It was kind of genie-bottle shaped, but with a hole in the middle where the top lifted from the bottom. In the center of that hole was the circle of numbers you describe. They were push button.

    And, yes, it IS a shame that kids will never have that tactile experience with a rotary phone. I was laughing at how confounded your kids were -- but to them, the 'old' technology is so foreign ... So interesting. And I love the tie to language. Literally.

    1. Hello there Melissa! I know that genie-bottle phone. Love it! I guess I almost have this steampunk-like reverence for phones from the eighties with their mechanical parts.... Growing up we had our phone on a wall between the kitchen and our only bathroom, so we used the bathroom as a phone booth. There was no where else to go. I spent a lot of time sitting on the vanity or the edge of the tub. Oh -- and here, the phone (weeks later) is still the biggest hit. They run to answer it. That still cracks me up.

  3. What it means when you say "Literally", courtesy of The Oatmeal:

    I now challenge you to not spend the rest of the day reading the other comics :)