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October 20, 2018  |  Friday words #143  |  380 hit(s)

The new-to-me word this week is a pretty new one altogether: mispronouner. This is a word invented in a blog post by the linguist Dennis Baron, who was making a logical extension of the verb to mispronoun. To mispronoun is to use the wrong pronoun for someone; this might be by mistake or might be as a way to harass someone. (Compare to deadname.) Thus someone who performs this act of using the wrong pronoun is a mispronouner.

I suppose that this is pronounced mis-PRO-noun-er, but I like to think that we might also pronounce it mis-pro-NOUN-er. Being linguists, we’ll have to wait and see which way the language goes.

BTW, Professor Baron has written lots about our attempts in English to come up with an epicene pronoun, and I recommend reading his blog for more information on this and many other language topics.

For today’s etymology, I investigated the word slide, in the sense of a photographic slide. For those who might not have personal experience with slides, photographic slides are pieces of 35mm film that are packaged in a square cardboard or plastic frame:

In slides, the image is “positive”: it shows the actual colors captured by the camera, as opposed to the opposite, or “negative,” image that’s captured in regular film. Photographing with negative film is a two-stage process. When you take a photo, light falls onto the film, which is clear stock that’s coated with a light-sensitive substance. The more light falls on the film, the darker the image gets on the negative. After you’ve processed the film, you make a print by shining light through the negative onto paper stock that’s also been coated with light-sensitive stuff. The darker the image on the negative, the less light gets to the print, so what was light in the original scene is light in the final print.

Color negative, slide, black-and-white negative

Slides—i.e., positives—start the same, with clear stock coated with light-sensitive emulsion. They also get darker the more light falls on the film. But in a bit of photographic sorcery, the image is reversed directly on the film during processing. Ergo, when the slide has been processed, it has a positive image on it. Back when movies were made on actual film, this was the process that they used to create movie film.

This, finally, brings us back to the actual word slide. Slides are intended to be projected onto a screen. Slides actually pre-date photography. The original slides were painted onto glass, and then often covered with another piece of glass. They were projected using the charmingly named magic lantern:

As you can see from the photo, the lantern had a slot in it into which you could … ready? … slide the piece of glass. (“His history..passes before us like a series of slides in a magic lantern.” [1858, via the OED].) Slides sometimes had a series of images on them, so you could go from image to image. (If you remember the View-Master, that’s basically the same idea, except that the View-Master slides were round, with something like 7 stereoscopic images on them.)

Aside: the slide used in microscopy captures the idea of an image—or, well, something—sandwiched between two pieces of glass.

Magic lanterns evolved into slide projectors, and the original glass slides evolved into the cardboard squares. (A brilliant scene in the TV series Mad Men (s1:e13) shows the ad exec Don Draper pitching the Carousel slide projector, which many of us olds know very well.)

Back to the present. The word slide also evolved into the all-too-familiar format of PowerPoint. Altho we left behind the last vestiges of photography in this new meaning of slide (unless you include a kitty picture in your slides, as I always try to do), we have hung on to the original sense of “sliding” from one image to the next. But the idea of being in a darkened room subjected to someone yacking about whatever’s projected on the screen—well, that seems to go back quite a ways.

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