That isn't what our forefathers said, of course, as they sat around the camp-fire and exchanged pieces of raw meat.
They didn't say: 'Hey, let's invent language so that we can all communicate] If we have words, we can exchange the most precious concepts, such as the meaning of truth and beauty and getting something better to eat than this disgusting raw meat] And perhaps one day our descendants will be so sophisticated in the use of language that they will sit around exchanging such concepts as, 'Oh God, wasn't it absolutely sickening that the judges wouldn't give Torvill and Dean the golden comeback they so richly deserved. I was absolutely gutted?' '
No, the most they might have done, to begin with, was to hold up a stone and say: 'Stone . . . ?' meaning, 'Shall we call this a stone?' And someone else would say: 'Ravi', meaning, 'No, I think it looks more like a ravi to me . . .' and then a meaningful discussion would take place. Maybe they were long and violent discussions. Maybe they had to spend thousands of years bashing each other over the head until they agreed that a stone would be called a stone, and that people from India who played the sitar would be called Ravi. But finally everything had a name. Even ravioli.
We live in a time when more things have no names than ever before. New gadgets, new toys, new customs, new devices, new bits on the edge of things that have no names . . . Why, we can't even think of nicknames for our decimal coins, like 'bob' and 'tanner'.
And even when you do, exceptionally, know the name of something new, it may not help. I was once sitting round a fire exchanging bits of raw meat with some of my contemporaries (they called it a fondue party), when someone said: 'You know those pink plastic tubes into which forestry people put baby tree seedlings these days - what are they called?' And nobody knew. So I mentioned the problem in print one day, and had a letter from a knowledgeable reader who said that in the trade they were fast becoming known as Tuley tubes, after the man who invented them.
For once I felt bang up to date and thereafter, whenever the subject of these pinkish baby-tree tubes came up (which was as often as I could steer the conversation round to it), I was able to refer loftily to Tuley tubes.
The only snag was that nobody knew what I was talking about. Only foresters or people in the baby-tree white slave trade would be familiar with terms like that. And yesterday I read in some
paper or other a reference to 'tree tubes, or Tuley tubes, as they used to be called, after the man who invented them'.
Used to be called] I haven't even used the name yet to anyone who understands it and already it's too late. At least when they sat round the camp-fire fixing words on things, they knew that the name would stick for ever and ever or at least for their lifetime. You didn't get bulletins going round the primeval world saying: 'Update, update] Word for 'stone' has now been changed from 'stone' to 'rock' as from the first of moonmonth]'
What sort of things am I talking about? Well, here's my updated list of things with no name:
The new-fangled cap on toothpaste tubes which can both unscrew and flip open.
Crisps that are supposedly made in the shape of other things, for example, fangs or skulls.
The smell that is left behind in a room vacated by a man wearing aftershave.
The welcome new sticky flap on the opening to packets of paper tissues which means that you can now open the pack, take one out and then close the flap down again thus keeping the tissues dry and neatly packed instead of, in the old days, having to leave them flying around loose in your pocket, or the street.
The little sort of lectern that you keep your Scrabble pieces on so the other players can't see which letters you've got.
The tiny inside pocket on a pair of jeans.
Anything attached to the outside of cheeses that is not a rind and is not intended to be eaten, such as grape pips or volcanic ash.
Things dangling on key-rings that are not keys but are apparently functionless and unnecessary ornaments.
The amount of money charged by a bank for the writing of a letter to tell you that the writing of this letter will involve you in an extra charge.
A small quote ripped from an adverse theatre review and plastered on the outside of a theatre in such large letters that punters assume it must be favourable.Reuse content