Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Clinkers

Do you know what a "clinker" is? I didn't. My father said this word not long ago and I was baffled by what he meant. It took some explaining on his part before I finally understood that a clinker is what's left (the ash) after coal is burned. "Back in the day," when people had coal-burning stoves, the remaining coal ash would make a "clinking" sound when they bumped together. They would have to remove this ash fairly regularly, so sometimes the person tasked with removing the ash would also be called a "clinker".

To my knowledge, I've never seen one. I know that when wood burns down it's ashes certainly don't make a "clinking" sound when they are bumped together, but coal is much harder, so I guess it's not outside the realm of possibility. To me, this is weird.

This is an example of some bit of cultural knowledge that has become outdated and is being lost as time moves on. To me, the very term seems quaint.

So imagine my surprise to be on the receiving end of a similar experience.

One day when my oldest son was being particularly repetitious, I told him with some exasperation, "You sound like a broken record." He looked at me like I was a space alien. He didn't have any idea what a "record" was! What soon followed was me trying to clearly explain that they used to make disks -- much bigger ones than DVDs -- that had grooves in them, and there exists machines that spins these disks and pulls a needle across it's surface. The little vibrations caused by the pulling of the needle across the surface of the record would be amplified by the machine into music.

He was flabbergasted. Never had he heard such an idea, and of course he wondered why they didn't just use a CD. It seemed so complicated to him. Lost on him was the pleasure of placing the record gently on the turn-table then setting the needle ever so carefully on the edge of the disk. He'll probably never know the joy of listening to a big band as it blares from crackly speakers in all 78 rpm glory (wow, so fast!).

Another bit of cultural knowledge lost on the next generation. What is this world coming to?! (I wonder if my father asks that question sometimes ...)

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