I was looking through Vogue magazine last night, the British version, and a couple of articles caught my eye: one on “over-programmed” children whose days are packed with so many activities that they’re “over-stimulated, over-pressured, stressed right out”; one on personalised fitness for busy people showing a drawing of a man using a cycling machine while working at his desk, a trainer at his back urging him on; and one entitled “Shades of Grey”.
All topics of interest to Vogue readers, especially with “Fifty Shades of Grey” opening in cinemas this month. Except that the issue I was leafing through dates from November 1989, and the “shades of grey” refer to the colour of unbleached babies’ nappies “free from the [highly toxic] dioxins that are a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process”. The film being reviewed that month was “When Harry Met Sally”. I wonder which will better stand the test of time…
Plus ça change
Fashion may have changed since 1989 (those shoulders!). But 25 years on, we’re still concerned about children being rushed from one after-school activity to another by over-anxious or over-competitive parents. Some of us are so worried about our sedentary lifestyles that we’ve installed standing or treadmill desks. And dioxins are still a health concern (these two articles provide more information: Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin, & Toxic Shock Syndrome and Dioxins and their effects on human health).
Context, context, context
From a language perspective, I wonder when, if ever, we’ll again be able to use the expression “shades of grey” to represent subtle distinctions, without triggering any sexual connotations. A reminder, if one were needed, of the importance of context and connotation in writing, translations included. That’s one area where human translators beat machine translation hands-down.
The fitness article also had a couple of language/technology nuggets in the description of one trainer’s relationship with his clients: “I gradually become as indispensable as a car-phone or a word-processor” (my italics). Remember when word processing was all that most of did on our computers (those of us who had a computer, that is, back in 1989)? To the extent that we used the term “word processor” to describe not just the application but the device itself. And I wonder who uses car phones now?
A note for fashionistas
The models featured on the fashion pages of the November 1989 edition of Vogue included Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, while the cover had Tatjana Patiz. Good to see that they’re still going strong.
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By Marian Dougan
When word-processors first arrived, they were single-purpose machines. That was all they could do. As I recall, we didn’t call them “computers” (even though they were).
In the Computing Science department at Stirling, the secretary had a word processor, while we post-grads and the staff used proper computers. We did write documents on them but usually using a special “typesetting” language (called LaTeX). Many academics STILL prepare papers using LaTeX-based systems, particularly when specialist notation is needed (eg in mathemetics)…
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