Jump to content

Those telephones you carry around with you.

Recommended Posts

Reading a recent story comment incited me to compile this probably totally useless list of terms for those phones almost everyone carries around.

cell phone - USA  (because the network comprises small sectors or cells)

mobile phone - UK (because it moves with you and isn't fixed by a wire)

portable phone - France (because you carry it around, think Porter!)

GSM phone - Netherlands (because, well, this says it all: The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) is a standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to describe the protocols for second-generation (2G) digital cellular networks used by mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets.)

Now when you use that phone what do you do?

Call, phone, ring? In French it's "coup de fil" pull the cord, comes from phones having a wire attached. So do you still dial even when it's digits? 




Link to comment

Thanks Talo. Interesting and useful to know if reading/writing something not in your home territory.

In conversation I think they would usually be referred to without the ‘phone’ : cell -USA; mobile -UK, movil -Spain, same root as mobile; Handy -Germany, I’m guessing because it is held in the hand or alternatively from the English word handy meaning convenient. What do the French use?  Portif?

As for using a phone of any sort?  Brits use all of those listed except ‘pull the cord’** (which is what you do to stop a train in emergency). We also  ‘give someone a bell’. I can never remember if the origin of the term is from the bell sound of an incoming call or from the name of the inventor: Alexander Graham Bell. 

And we still dial, although some refer to ‘punching in the number’. 

 ** not to by confused with ‘pull the chain’ which refers to something else entirely.

Link to comment

When we end a call, we 'hang up'. Which goes back to the days of the very early 'candlestick' and similar phones, where you replaced the earpiece into a cradle which 'sagged' with its weight and disconnected the call. Telecoms engineers still talk about 'on hook' and 'off hook' to refer to the status of a line.

I love language, where a particular usage has become ingrained and continues to be used when the literal meaning of the words involved are no longer in any way relevant.


Link to comment
  • 1 month later...
On 3/15/2021 at 2:51 AM, Bruin Fisher said:

I love language, where a particular usage has become ingrained and continues to be used when the literal meaning of the words involved are no longer in any way relevant.



Yup, me too.

Who knows what the reference behind the term 'being on tenterhooks' is? In fact, most folks tend to write this as 'being on tenderhooks' these days because they don't know. Or the literal meaning behind 'bury the hatchet' before beginning negotiations. Or why the term 'big wig' means important person.  I could go on. I love the etymology of these old words and phrases, often almost lost in the mists of time.

As for cell phones, here in Canada it pretty much mirrors US usage of terms. Except cell phones are so ubiquitous now that most people simply say 'phone'. The 'cell' is superfluous. If you want to indicate an actual hard-wired old fashioned phone you now have to indicate that specifically by saying 'landline.'

A young person was calling somebody a little while back (on his cell phone, of course), and managed to get a busy signal. The look of puzzlement on his face as he put the phone on speaker and asked, "What is *that*? Something is wrong with the connection!" was priceless. I explained the concept of busy signals to looks of puzzlement and horror all around. He'd literally never heard a busy signal before, thanks to call waiting and voicemail, etc.

Link to comment
On 3/15/2021 at 8:51 AM, Bruin Fisher said:

When we end a call, we 'hang up. - Telecoms engineers still talk about 'on hook' and 'off hook' to refer to the status of a line.



Another hang over from earlier days: Police officers in the UK are sometimes referred to as ‘bobbies’ after Sir Robert Peel, the politician who set up the first modern police force circa 1820.  However people in the UK railway industry still refer to signalmen as ‘bobbies’. Why bobbies? In the infancy of the railways,  the railway police were responsible for controlling and giving signals to trains out of which function the job of signalman developed. 


Tenterhooks: Mr Wiki tells me they are the hooks on a tenter, a frame on which a length of cloth would be stretched to dry after washing, so as to prevent shrinkage. However I have also heard the term used to refer to the pegs on which the herring would be hung in the smokehouse on the process of making kippers. Presumably because the hooked frame  for hanging the fish resembled the weaver’s tenter. In both cases an object hung  up waiting for something to happen to it.

Big wig. A full-bottom wig is an expensive item.  See https://www.stanley-ley.co.uk/acatalog/Stanley_Ley_Wigs_1.html.  Wigs were fashionable after the Restoration. The bigger the wig the more likely the wearer was rich.

Bury the Hatchet. From the native American custom I believe.


oh what fun!

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...