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June 17, 2008


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For my entire childhood, I referred to the main knob on the TV as the "onvol."

omg, Green Stamps. To some extent my mother's grocery-shopping life revolved around getting those. And then we kids had to lick the stupid things and paste them in the books.

re: scare quotes. I guess I disagree about the quotation marks around "chips"; those seem ok to me, given the context. I think the use of the term was so new that it still warranted some danger!-possible-confusion-ahead markings. This was well before PCs, of course, and even before (if I remember right) everyone had calculators.

What I love is the elaborate instructions for how to turn the volume knob. And the "warm up" aspect of the TV -- 30 seconds to get that thing humming! Dang.

@Mike: I also think the quotes around "chips" are OK, and for the reason you cite. To the average TV owner in 1966, a chip was something you ate while *watching* TV. Silicon was just one more thing to memorize on the periodic table of elements.

In 2001 S&H Green Stamps became S&H Green Points; instead of getting stamps, you could swipe a magnetized card. Here's a link to an NPR story that called the company "a 105-year-old dot-com startup": http://tinyurl.com/4nzq7u

Aha! Maybe I can blame early 60s product manuals for my father's addiction to scare quotes. Why, any minute now I expect an email from him thanking us for our "hospitality" during their recent "visit."

Thanks so much for this article. I must admit that I'm a "scare quoter" -- as you can plainly see from this sentence! I will try to reform....

Here's a joke (for people who can remember gift coupons) that was told to me by an elementary school kid (my godson) in the early '80s (do the math for an appreciation of how impossible it was for him to understand the joke he was telling):

As Jesus carried the cross from station to station, he bent lower and lower under the weight. Finally he was bent so low that a pack of Old Golds fell out of his breast pocket, and the centurion guarding him picked it up.

"You smoke Old Golds?" the centurion asked.

"Of course," Jesus replied. "How do you think I got this lovely cross?"

As to the scare quotes problem, I agree with others here that their usage in many (okay, not all) of the cases you cite, like the chips, signaled a recent coinage the reader may not have been familiar with and wasn't superfluous in time-context. I used them a year ago, when I "back-formed" (I could stop right now, there's another perfect example) a verb for "referendum". In my city a bunch of people have banded together to fight our corrupt council, and we're forced to pass referendum petitions to voters to get their decisions put on the ballot to be sustained or vetoed. You can't keep saying "circulate a referendum", so what IS the verb for that (it comes from "refer", of course, for "referring an ordinance to the electorate", but if you're gonna use it a lot you need something more concise.) I didn't know, and people have perforce tried lots of coinages as we've emailed back and forth. In one email, I wrote: "I guess we're gonna have to 'referend' the term-limits vote too." It has a similar function to "sic": it showed I knew I was using a word that wasn't standard.


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