Saturday, October 11, 2008

So What’s New? Plenty! Part 2

One of the greatest joys I get out of delving into the wonders of language, especially English, is that never-ending wonder I experience from witnessing the way words that have been around for so very long can suddenly be found with totally new meanings. This has been happening to English, as well as all other living languages, I presume, since Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons cavorted around Europe and the Middle East, and Homo Habilis ventured into Asia.

In a recent entry to my blog entitled “So What’s New? Plenty!” I dealt with words that I never would have heard years ago such as edamame, plain water, server, and weightage. I’d like to continue this, but in a different way. On a few occasions, I’ve come across a masterpiece of writing that’s on the Web which, besides being extremely funny, perfectly exemplifies the new meanings that old words can take on.

Perhaps there are those of you who have never heard of the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, very famous comedians who made movies in the 1940s and 50s, and had their own television show in the 1950s. One of their most famous routines was called “Who’s on First?” In this classic comedy routine, Abbott tries his best to explain the game of baseball to Costello. If you know baseball, you’ll really enjoy listening to the routine.


I wish I could take credit for what I’m about to post here, but I can’t. And I wish I could find out who the author of this marvelous piece is, but once again, I can’t. If anybody out there knows who the author is, please let me know and I’ll be very happy to give him or her full credit.

At any rate, here is this hysterical take-off on the original Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?” Even if you’re not familiar with those two great comedians of the past, you’ll still appreciate fully how placing them into our era can make for great comedy and can be an excellent example of how language keeps generating new uses for old words. So, if Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today, their famous sketch might have turned out something like the following. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

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Costello calls a store to look into buying a computer, and Abbott happens to be the salesman who answers the phone.

ABBOTT: Super Duper Computers. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: Thanks. I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer.
ABBOTT: Mac?
COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou.
ABBOTT: Your computer?
COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.
ABBOTT: Mac?
COSTELLO: I told you my name's Lou.
ABBOTT: What about “Windows”?
COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?
ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with “Windows”?
COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?
ABBOTT: Wallpaper.
COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.
ABBOTT: Software for “Windows”?
COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?
ABBOTT: “Office.”
COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?
ABBOTT: I just did.
COSTELLO: You just did what?
ABBOTT: Recommend something.
COSTELLO: You recommended something?
ABBOTT: Yes.
COSTELLO: For my office?
ABBOTT: Yes.
COSTELLO: Okay, what did you recommend for my office?
ABBOTT: “Office.”
COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!
ABBOTT: I recommend “Office” with “Windows.”
COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! Okay, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?
ABBOTT: “Word.”
COSTELLO: What word?
ABBOTT: “Word” in “Office.”
COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.
ABBOTT: The “Word” in “Office” for “Windows.”
COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?
ABBOTT: The “Word” you get when you click the blue W.
COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue W if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? Do you have anything I can track my money with?
ABBOTT: “Money.”
COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?
ABBOTT: “Money.”
COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?
ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.
COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?
ABBOTT: “Money.”
COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?
ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.
COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?
ABBOTT: One copy.
COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?
ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy “Money.”
COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?
ABBOTT: Why not? They own it!

A few days later . . .

ABBOTT: Super Duper Computers. Can I help you?
COSTELLO: How do I turn off my computer?
ABBOTT: Click on “Start.”
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Yep, it’s a joy to witness how old words can take on new meanings! A joy for us ― but not for poor Costello, who passed away in 1959 and probably never even heard the word computer.

If you’ve come across old words that have taken on new meanings and they’ve surprised or delighted you, please let me know. We teachers always need to do our best to keep abreast of these changes.

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