Zombies (and vampires) are very hot this year in books, movies, and TV shows. The "undead" seem to be everywhere in the popular culture; you might say they are actually "alive and well."
But it is not just in popular culture where we see and hear them. The other day, I was listening to some radio commentator while driving, and he said something like "as soon as I said that, my phone started ringing off the hook." My initial reaction was, "whoa, there is a phrase that really has little true meaning these days."
It's not the only outdated one, of course. People use the expression "sounded like a broken record" even if they have never seen a real phonograph record, let along dealt with a scratched or broken one.
Language is a flexible construct, certainly, and people learn to adapt as terms and their meanings change, sometimes radically. After all, back in the day, to "swipe" someone's card was to steal it, now it means to run it through the credit-card reader slot. Or take "alias", which used to imply a false name used for illegal or shady purposes, whereas now it can be just an innocent alternate name used for email, networking, and interconnectivity.
But the danger is that we assume (or hope) that the person we are talking to knows the true meaning of these outdated phrases, or how their meanings and implications have changed. And that's not always the case. When you use such a phrase, the listener may think he or she knows, and gets a different implication than you intended. Even a phrase such as circuit "ground" has lots of strange meanings when you are talking about avionics or space-based electronics; what you really mean is "common". And what about that "core dump" of a CPU's memory--have you seen any actual core-based storage lately?
In his outstanding essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell discussed the use of clichés and stock phrases. He maintained that the reasons that people used them ranged from laziness, to muddy thinking, all the way to an attempt to deliberately conceal or deceive (he was prescient: think of all the politically correct phrases we use today). While clichés can be a "shorthand" way of getting a point across, he argues they can also be a way to avoid being clear about what you are saying.
But I think the reasons that most of us use these zombie-like phrases are less sinister. Instead, it is basic comfort and convenience, and habit. We have used them, we have heard them, we know what they mean, and we think the audience knows what they mean, as well. That's where the danger and source of potential confusion and misunderstanding lies.
Are there outdated technical phrases and terms that you think we should remove from our standard usage? Or that can give the wrong impression? Or ones whose meaning has shifted, so the person using them and the person hearing them may be out–of-phase in what they indicate?
My nomination is the term "offline", which I associate with not being connected or working properly. But as I work with power-supply issues, that same term means "operating from the AC line" rather than battery powered. So, when you say your power-supply is "offline", which is it?
What are some technical phrases from the past which you think have lost their original meaning, but are still out there--but drifting and untethered? ?