It is often said that the Bible has some of the best lines in the English Language and along with Shakespeare is the source of many common expressions and phrases.
It was while I was trying to find the source of a quote that ‘there is nothing new under the sun‘ that I attempted to access the Oxford dictionary of quotations. Due to an inadvertent mouse click, I found I had stumbled across the Oxford English dictionary quarterly updates. This sees a group of lexicographers (I wonder what the collective noun for those might be) deciding which new words have made it into arguably the definitive dictionary of spoken English. It was whilst I was reading the most recent updates (2012-2014), that the quote came back to haunt me.
First there were a range of words with mildly exotic sounds (at least I hoped they would live up to their promise). These included hench, humblebrag, binge-watch, listicle, perf and my personal favourite time-suck. None of these were recognisable to me and none had quite made it into polite conversation at least among the circles in which I circulated.
Then I hit a word admitted in 2013 which certainly had entered my awareness – Selfie. Defined as ‘A photograph one has taken of oneself to be shared. Typically on a smartphone shared via social media.
I was just contemplating the Selfie and the now apparently ubiquitous ‘selfie stick’ (an aid to assist with extra distance when taking your own picture) when it led to an interesting coincidental twist.
The rise of the selfie stick over the past six months has been amazing, it initiated a text message to the person who introduced me to the concept. I will state for clarity, I neither own nor desire a selfie-stick. Having a rather dry sense of humour, I advised him of my favoured synonym for the device (not I regret my own work) namely the Wand of Narcissus. During that exchange I was reminded of being taken in by reports of the new and improved only to find that history had merely repeated itself.
Last autumn, when we last spoke, I was ‘tipped off’ about a new medium for recording and listening to music. Apparently, I was assured this was the thing for the lovers of real music having warmth, depth and character lost in the harshness and unforgiving accuracy of traditional digital recordings. Even the teenage son confirmed he was a fan of the new technology sweeping specialist music shops across the UK.
I was given the name of a local shop and given a contact (all very cloak and dagger) with advice to ask for the latest Colvi freleases – any further information was met with a smile and ‘go and see for yourself’. I spent two days wondering what COLVI could stand for. No trade marks, nothing on Google and none of my friends seemed to know – it appeared I was on to something very elitist !
When the day arrived I went to the shop at the time suggested and as described, I couldn’t get near the counter for DJ’s, VJ’s, hip-hoppers, be-boppers and classical music fans. I was impressed at such a wide church of supporters and gradually made my way towards the sign reading ‘The latest Colvi releases’.
Imagine my surprise when I reached the front of the queue only to find myself confronted with a real blast from the past – coloured vinyl. Long players, 33’s, albums and 12 inch singles. It was like being dropped though a timewarp to the 1980’s.
What was clear was that these were welcomed by young and old alike. True hi-fiers were expounding their virtues whilst hipsters and teenagers wowed at the warmth and ‘honesty’ of the recordings. Smiling at the ‘joke’ of which I was the butt, I made my excuses – but not before buying a couple myself and wondering the the old ‘record player’ was still in working order.
In fact it would appear this new find is a real rebirth. More than 1 million vinyl records were sold in the UK in 2014 with many bands and artists offering a specialist vinyl release alongside their now ‘traditional’ CD and/or downloads. Over 200 stores specialising in vinyl or analogue recordings have opened in the same time. truly back to the future.
Then yesterday, the definition and novelty of the selfie was brought into question. In an excellent exhibition focused on the Bohemians of Melbourne one photograph jumped out at me. I had to look closely to see whether this early twentieth century self-portrait wasn’t just a clever staged shot designed to appeal to the selfie generation.
Although the passage of time makes the images of people caught in silver nitrate seem anonymous and somehow distant, it also makes their connection with us all the more obvious. The fact that nearly 80 years ago the desire to capture and share our own images was just as strong as today is reassuringly constant.
Taken in 1939 via a reflection in a mirror this couple could well be the first form of the selfie. I would certainly be interested in any earlier examples. Of course, at the time of the photograph this wouldn’t have had the catchy nomenclature of ‘selfie’ – it would probably have been a self portrait. However, it did remind me that there truly is nothing new under the sun.
So my task for the next couple of months while I research some other photographic history is to see if there has ever been a predecessor to the wand of Narcissus. I’m sure there has been if only I look hard enough.
For completeness, the phrase ‘nothing new under the sun’ is Biblical in origin being a partial quote from Ecclesiastes 1 4-11.