Grammar Guru: Obsolete Phrases


Words, like pagers, camcorders and minidisc players, are rendered obsolete all the time.

It can sometimes be hard to keep up, which can make life difficult for fiction writers.

You certainly wouldn’t want to baffle a whole generation of readers by littering your stories with references to disk drives or dot matrix printers. Or worse, accidentally include talk of Netflix or Spotify (now both verbs as well as a nouns) in a period piece.

After talking it over in the office, we’ve come up with a list of our favourite (read: scariest) soon-to-be obsolete words that will shortly vanish from our fiction, and our lives.

Hang up the phone

How do you end a phone conversation these days? The chances are it isn’t by hanging up the phone anymore.

According to recent research, fewer and fewer people are using their landlines now than ever before, preferring instead to simply call with a mobile phone or use a messaging app.

That means the “End Call” button will soon be much more familiar than the notion of putting a phone back in its static cradle in your hallway.

Roll up the window

Manual car windows are practically a thing of the past already; most modern car makers have phased them out completely in favour of their electric counterparts.

If you’re travelling around in a 1990s Ford Mondeo, then they probably remain relevant. Otherwise all they’re good for now is tricking you into showing your age . . .

Nails on a chalkboard

Chalkboards are still in use today, but their days are definitely numbered.

Everyone remembers teachers scribbling away on these from schooldays, but that’s increasingly no longer the case.

Soon, the idea of learning on anything other than an internet-enabled device will be laughably quaint. And scraping a screen doesn’t make much noise . . .

Carbon copy

This one is a little trickier. The phrase itself might not disappear completely — instead, it’s meaning will shift slightly as it supersedes its origins.

Currently used to mean a duplicate, it of course refers to the carbon paper used to create copies of documents. These days you’ll see this most often now at car dealerships, or from some more old-school delivery services.

The advent of new technology, however, means that this manual practice will go the way of the Dodo sooner rather than later. And with it, the reasons for using the phrase in its literal sense.

(Fun fact: the “cc” on an email stands for “carbon copy”.)

One thing is for sure: the Grammar Guru will never be obsolete! For more advice on all things grammatical, click the tag below.

Click here to take a look at our Writing Tools section, too. It’s guaranteed to sharpen up your work, or your money back (* please note: no money will be exchanged).

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.