Do you remember in the very olden days, back when people thought the biggest aspidistra in the world was funny, the slightly odd “thing” that was the speaking clock?
Dial 123 and a posh woman told you: “At the third stroke, the time will be. Eleven. Twenty-seven. And forty seconds.” Then there were three beeps.
I can’t remember when I last called the speaking clock. It was probably to check I wouldn’t miss Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?
Have you ever attempted to explain to a young person why the speaking clock existed? Don’t bother, they annoyingly keep saying “why didn’t you just ask Alexa?”
In my youth, the voice of the speaking clock was a lady named Pat Simmons. She did the job from 1963 to 1985 (Jane Cain had done it from 1936 to ’63).
I recall being hugely impressed by Pat’s stamina. No matter the time of day or night, she was always there and always sounded the same. She was a superwoman who ate, slept, and went to the toilet during the beeps.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned Pat wasn’t performing “live”! All I had thought was admirable in the world was cut from beneath me. If this wasn’t true, what could a boy really trust? Next you’ll be telling me Sooty wasn’t a real bear!
Pat’s time-telling was delivered via a process called concatenation. This is the science of putting things together in a connected series. She recorded the words eleven, twenty-seven, and forty seconds (and all the other numbers) and the recordings were delivered in the desired order by a machine in the old days, later by computer.
Concatenation is now common in computer programming to “construct binary infix operators and data structures” (I copied that from the internet and don’t have a clue what it means).
In the real world, though a little-used word itself, we use concatenation every day. If you examine the etymology the meaning becomes clear. Con is Latin, meaning “with” or “together”. Catena is “chain”. It means to chain words together.
Motorboat is a concatenation, it chains together motor and boat. Airplane, lipstick, eggcup, highlands, cupcake, and fingerprint are concatenations. The more you think, the more you notice: grandmother, flowerpot, daybreak, albeit, nevertheless, and so on.
Countryside, workbench, sheepdog, heavyweight, eyesight. Help, I can’t stop!
This is different from a portmanteau, which uses parts of words: email, brunch, guesstimate, motel, etc.
You’ll see concatenations described as “compound words” but I prefer the precision of concatenation.
It’s a good word.
Word of the week
A loss of consciousness: EG: “I suppose I should have questioned how Pat Simmons kept on telling the time for 22 years without a suffering a deliquium every so often.”
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org