Software Musings

Moments of Inertia

Posted on: 14/02/2009

I was thinking about linguistic inertia—the way in which the world moves on and the language doesn’t. My grandson today was shewing me his “steam roller” which was clearly actually a “diesel roller”. And I flew this afternoon in the “cockpit” of my aircraft. I suspect that very few of us have ever been to a cock fight and even those who have would not have recognised the term’s path, through maritime terminology, to an aircraft.

Anyway, the word that was interesting me was “newspaper”. There is a local newspaper in Ottawa called the Ottawa Citizen and it can be found at We were rung the other day by someone offering to print the web pages and deliver the resulting paper copy to our door each day, a sort of printed Kindle I suppose. I thought that this was a quaint idea—in principle one could, I suppose, offer to print almost any web pages and deliver them on paper. I think that the person offering the service was still tied up with the “paper” part of “newspaper”.

Imagine my surprise then, on coming home from work last week to find two large volumes sitting on the door step. These contained paper printouts of telephone numbers and had been distributed by a company called Bell. Actually, even had I felt it useful to have a list of people’s contact numbers on paper, this one wouldn’t have been the one I needed. It contained no one’s cellular telephone number and no one’s Skype user name. In fact, as far as I could see, it contained only telephone landline numbers, perhaps the least useful contact information for people. What was really strange was that it associated the landline number with the name of a person as though it were a cellular telephone number or Skype name. Telephone landlines, of course, are not associated with people, rather with houses or offices. But I should not be critical, it was a nice thought. Someone at Bell, obviously confused by the linguistic inertia in the phrase “Telephone Book”, felt that it would be useful to print out this list as a “book” and deliver it to me personally. I’m sure that the cellular telephone numbers and Skype identities will appear in the next issue.


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February 2009
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The author of this blog used to be an employee of Nortel. Even when he worked for Nortel the views expressed in the blog did not represent the views of Nortel. Now that he has left, the chances are even smaller that his views match those of Nortel.
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