Let’s Think About Things

This is a fun and easy game. All you have to do is think of what you would call a commonly used object if it didn’t already have a name. Here’s an example: 

Scissors = suspended knives  

Does this change the way you think about scissors at all? This has nothing to do with etymology or real language. Just try to think about a thing you see or do every day as if you’d never seen it or done it before. What would you call it? Like a refrigerator. What does that mean? We already abbreviate it to fridge or frigerator which makes a lot more sense – we do re-frigerate things, but they have to be frigerated first! So, it should be a frigerator. Better yet, just a ‘cold case’ or ‘the chiller’ so that we don’t have to worry about the verbs involved.  You decide what sounds best or come up with your own name.  

Some things already have good or useful names, like a telephone for instance. ‘Tele’ – distant, ‘phone’- sound. Distant sound. The inventor of this machine knew what they were doing with it. But you can rename them if you want to, like ‘the communication of last resort’ (that’s kind of long). This probably reveals more about how some of us feel about telephones and phone conversations. Cell phones, of course, are more than cell phones. They are cellular devices. But that’s so generic. Lots of devices use cellular technology. What about a pocket-watch, a security brick, a scheduling coordinator, filing assistant, laughing stock, communication station, in short: a personal secretary? This isn’t what it was necessarily made for, but when a thing has been around for long enough and we develop new uses for it, the name it was originally given may no longer be descriptive of what it does. Just think about it: if you came here from another planet or crawled out from under a rock, what would you call cell phones based on how you see them used? 

I have another point. Socks. What is a sock? It’s more of a foot-warmer, shoe-liner, foot-shirt. Socks only make sense because that’s what we’ve been calling them for decades. Does this lengthy lifetime of a word have any value? If you say something for a long enough time, that word or title will inevitably embed itself into our language. But does that give it meaning or does it corrupt our language by putting a meaningless word in it? This process could be very useful in helping us to break down what something really is and what it does for us and whether the name it has is really useful to us or if it should be called something else.  

This game can be fun, ridiculous, introductory, awkward, or philosophical. Talking to someone new, you might find out about their personality or sense of humor. Talking to a friend, enter into a deep conversation about what names mean and why you describe things the way you do. How are names constructed; what is the process for creating an identity? Or simply, why are chips, chips? Why not crunches, crumblies, or nibbles? Names have meaning; should we explore why they were originally called what we call them now, or ignore their origins and call them what they mean to us presently? To sum things up, just talk to your friends about names and see what happens, or you can use this as an icebreaker with someone you don’t know to start a fun conversation.