Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ask the Experts

And by "experts" I mean you folks out there. I'm counting on your expertise to answer a few ridiculously trivial questions I have. They're dumb, but they're nagging at me... and I suspect that once I ask them, they will nag at some of you, too.

1. On every procedural show, from Law & Order to Num3ers, whenever a crime is committed, the first thing the cops do is collect all the surveillance footage from nearby cameras and ATMs and so forth. Then they go back to the station, where they look at the footage, and say something like, "Damn! There are no good shots of the plates!" But there is one grainy shot of a guy in the deep background, and one of the techs uses some imaginary software to turn it into a picture that looks like it came from the Sears Portrait Studio. And then they turn to other investigative means.

What they never do is go out and collect the surveillance footage from the next block, and then the next, and then the next. I mean, if I were to, say, rob a bank, no matter which way I drove, I'd be filmed along my entire route, probably from six different angles. They'd have me robbing the bank, leaving the bank, loading the car, turning the corner, waiting at the light, turning the next corner, and on and on until I was parking at the hideout, divvying up the loot with my accomplices, and so on. Cameras would probably film us all driving to our individual homes, and the police could grab us up pretty as you please.

I always hear real law enforcement types complain that it's not as easy as it looks on TV. Am I wrong, or does it seem like, in this video age, it shouldn't be as hard as it looks on TV?

2. A few years ago, I read a great word and I can't remember it or find it. The definition was a bit complex, but it went kinda like this: It was a word or expression derived from an idea that no longer exists. Examples are a better route. We say "dialing a phone" even though phones no longer have dials, or singer release "albums" even though they're not albums any more. Does anyone know what that word is? And can anyone think of any more examples? (This is the kind of thing I consider fun, which tells you something about me. I also like thinking of synecdoches, but that's for another day... unless you have some.)

3. You know the incredibly annoying Mirna and Charla on The Amazing Race? Out of all the obnoxious and irritating and loathsome things they do, perhaps the one that gets to me the most is the way they speak in exaggeratedly pidgin English whenever they speak to foreigners. As if broadly-accented English is somehow easier to understand. This ugliest of ugly American behaviors is, I think, quite common. Has it ever been studied or explained or defined? (And here's a question no one can answer: Why do people get so offended when someone uses the Yield? As if it's "rude" or something? Am I mistaken, or are they in a race for a million dollars???)

4. The last question is much less savory, but I really want to know, and you are all the smartest people I know, so here goes: You know when we were kids, and the teacher put a tooth in a glass of Coke, and after a couple of days the tooth was partially dissolved?

Well then, couldn't four or six liters of Coke left overnight unclog a sink or a toilet?


Jeff said...

1. Especially in the UK where there is practically a camera on every corner. It would take a lot of work to gather all that footage, but, as long as you kept finding the car, and looking in the correct direction, I guess it would work. This would make a neat scene in a show or movie.

I work on a cop-related show and I am amazed at how fast police can actually find people. They'll call in a vague description of say, "a white van with a bunch of guys in it," and within minutes another cop will respond with something like, "I saw them on 3rd street about 20 minutes ago" and then another cop in that area tracks them down. Time and time again. You'd think you'd be pretty safe after getting only a few blocks away. Amazing.

2. I think I read that same thing. It was about the TV phrase "don't touch that dial" even though no TV has a dial anymore.

3. Once, talking to the maid at a hotel, I found myself repeating "towel" over and over, increasingly slower and louder, trying to ask for more towels. I have no idea why I thought talking slower and louder would suddenly make her understand. But you'd think a maid at a hotel would understand "towels".

4. Sorry, but that never happened. Coke won't dissolve a tooth. That is an urban myth. Does do wonders to that crusty car battery stuff. So, I'd say sink and toilet are still up in the air.

Anonymous said...

I think the word you're looking for is anachronism or anachronistic if you want an adjective.

Michael Markowitz said...

1. I heartily approve of the UK system of widespread surveillance being implemented here, provided that everyone has access to all the feeds. Because I believe no one should do anything in public view you wouldn't mind everyone seeing. But if only the authorities can monitor it, then it's creepy. I don't know which the British have, do you?

I won't ask you which cop show you work on, except to say I hop it's not one I've slammed!!

3. Bill Maher made a scary point the other night. He said, if it were revealed that global warming were entirely caused by TV remotes, would the public give them up?

4. I often wonder why greasy spoon workers don't know the word "hamburger"

5. What??? Seriously? Can anyone else confirm this? Because I saw it myself! I don't know whether to be disillusioned that my teacher pulled a switcheroo to deceive me, or horrified that there is a place where you can buy a half-dissolved tooth!


Thanks, but that's definitely not the word I mean. An anachronism is something that is of the wrong time, like the clock chiming in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" or the USA Today machines in "Scarface"... or my personal favorite, when Jack Nicholson, in "The Two Jakes" walks past an ATM!

norm said...

I was also wondering if my mother fooled me.
Once, when I lost a tooth, she put it in a cup of Coke and it dissolved.
...or did it?

Michael Markowitz said...

Jeff, I'm sorry, you're outnumbered. My teacher and Norm's mother makes two to one. Besides Norm's mother has never lied to me.

Michael Markowitz said...

Oh, no, Norm! According to Snopes, we've been had! Apologies to Jeff!


norm said...

Maybe we were had...but maybe not.
The Snopes thing said Coke could, possibly, in time, dissolve a tooth, but that isn't a good indicator of what it would do to your body since nobody holds a swallow of Coke in their mouths for 24 hours and there are bodily fluids that neutalize some of Coke's evil powers.

Christopher said...

A word close to what you're looking for is "retronym", which describes phrase qualifying something that never needed a qualifier before a technological enhancement. Examples are acoustic guitar, analog watch and paper mail. Dialing the (touchtone) phone and releasing albums, i.e. using a word that no longer applies due to technological shift, is different, and I don't know a word for it. If I may coin one, though I'll go with "vestigism".

I actually think synechdoche is more common than straight metaphor in spoken English.

Michael Markowitz said...

Retronym is a great concept, thanks! I like that!

And I really like your new word "vestigism." I like it so much, in fact, that I hope you don't mind if I suggest a slight tweak (it's the occupational hazard of a writer): what do you think of "vestigialism"? More fun to say, no? :-)

Michael Markowitz said...

Oh, and as for your synecdoche notion, who agrees with Christopher, show of hands?

Christopher said...

I considered vestigialism, but passed on it as isms, especially ones representing speech patterns, use nouns and not adjectives as their base. I'm happy to create neologisms, but only in traditional fashion.

Michael Markowitz said...

I'm not sure you're right about that. Isms aren't confined to nouns... or if they were, they haven't been for a very, very long time.

If you look up "ism" at dictionary.com, for instance, right away you see "formalism" and "puerilism"

Puerilism, a concept not unknown to me, of course, suggests "infantilism"... Off the top of my head: escapism, absurdism, sensualism, and that old standby, socialism.

And, the brother from another planet, conformism.