I like going down the rabbit hole of etymology of writing terms. Some terms are hard to pin down. Here are three of my favourites, and if you can enlighten me further I would be most grateful.
The Easter Egg
An Easter egg in a game or video is a hidden or secret feature, often for the amusement of the creators rather than the users/audience. Wikipedia states that “The use of the term “Easter egg” to describe secret features in video games originates from the 1980 video game Adventure for the Atari 2600 game console, programmed by employee Warren Robinett.” HOWEVER! In the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the crew and cast had an Easter Egg hunt on the sets, and eggs turned up during filming. I would suggest that – since the movie was released in 1975 – that Robinett may have been a fan of the musical and this inspired the name.
Jumping the Shark
The origin of this term is straight from an episode of Happy Days, the television series, when Fonzi feels the need to prove his courage by jumping a shark. ‘Jumping the shark’ is when a show starts doing ridiculous storylines in an attempt to stop haemorrhaging viewers; it usually means the show is about to be cancelled. Often, it is these bizarre storylines that deliver the death blow.
Lampshading is a way of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the verisimilitude of a narrative or television show or movie, and interferes with the audience’s suspension of belief. Lampshading is calling attention to the very implausible plot development, or overused stereotype or tired cliché, by highlighting it. By pointing out the issue, the writer hopes to turn it into a in-joke with the audience, rather than an example of lazy writing. So where did the term come from? My research couldn’t turn up a straightforward answer. It seems to have its murky origins in vaudeville, where it was a common comedic ruse for a character to hide by sticking a lampshade on their head.
When your dog wags her tail, she is communicating with you. She is happy. When a baby cries because she is hungry, she is also communicating without words. When your husband tells you he loved dinner, but leaves most of it on his plate, again, this is another form of communication. And speaking and writing are communication, but of a different order.
On this little planet, language is unique to the human race. Other animals can communicate, but only domestic animals (and some primates studied by scientists) understand actual words. And an English-speaking dog won’t understand commands in other languages, unless she is taught commands in other languages. That is because speech – and writing – are symbolic communication and not instinctive (like crying or smiling). Basically, all English speakers have agreed that the word ‘dog’ represents a member of the canine family. There is no reason why we’ve chosen the word ‘dog’ that actually links itself to the reality of a dog. In other languages, a dog is a perro, chien, hund, madra, or one of a thousand other words. None of them are any more correct than the English word, because all of them are just an arbitrary collection of sounds chosen by social convention.
Human beings do have instinctive forms of communication, in gesture, body language and facial expressions. But none of these are as efficient as language, because only a language can express higher order concepts like mercy or justice. And only human beings have the basic need to express themselves with a language. First language acquisition happens automatically with children; though children can acquire more than one ‘First’ language if they live in a bilingual or multilingual household.
Without speech, we could have no written language. Unlike spoken language, every child needs to be ‘taught’ how to read and write (though some children acquire reading and writing skills quite easily and rapidly). Most people think the written word is the same as the spoken word, but they are very different. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog articles, the written word has to try and compete with all the nonverbal communication that takes place when people are speaking face-to-face.
As a writer and story teller, I love both the spoken and the written word.