Times change: we know that. What we tend to forget is that language changes, too. When I was being prompted by a menu on the Law Society website (sorry, it is now is operated by the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority ) to download and print out a hard copy of my new pdf-format practising certificate a few months ago, I had the chance to compare my rather pinkish print-out with the far more impressive printed version of the certificate the Law Society used to send out by post. I also thought about how the language has changed. Many of the words and phrases we use today in our daily work are either new or hijacked from other contexts.
The office worker of the 1980’s would have major language problems today. When the green cathode tube monitor (not a television) first took over my desk along with a (non-musical) keyboard (and, much later, the amusing mouse) I had my first encounters with the desktop computer (and later the laptop). Of course, I now have a flatscreen monitor on my Apple and use a Blackberry, ipad or some other mobile device when travelling.Way back in the early days I used to receive most of my contract work with snail mail letters and usually had a bit of time to type in amendments and send a reply by post or make suggestions at a (face-to-face “real time“) meeting with the client. Today my work usually arrives by email attachment. Of course, I often have to send copies of my messages to interested parties as blind copies. I have even had to respond to items posted on social media on rare occasions.
In the New Zealand law firm I first worked in in the 1980’s we still had tea ladies appearing in front of the office door at 10:30 in the morning to serve hot tea and biscuits. On special days we were even supplied with chocolate biscuits. There were no coffee machines. Just tea ladies and tea breaks. Apart from telephone conversations, all discussions took place on a face-to-face basis. There were no Skype confrontations, no video conferences and, of course, text messages (“SMS”), email and Facebook et al were all dreams from Star Trek and sci-fi writers. “Google” meant to stare at somebody and the internet was still being dreamt of in the minds of scientists. We had libraries and books instead. Telexes and telegrams were still used and the facsimile machine (fax) was a mysterious black-box device kept in a special room and used only by partners for special matters of great urgency. Telephones were very large, sitting on desks and connected by wires. Information was all in “hard copy” form and the clouds were only in the sky. Hardware had nothing to do with computers and “software” still sounded like a reference to settees and other items of furnishing. Computers were huge IBM mainframe monsters that filled entire rooms. They were kept behind lock and key and were hardly ever seen or touched by normal mortals. PC still referred usually to a police constable and “IT” was used only as a pronoun.
I was both happy and gay in those days.