Slang City Mail

Click here to get this free weekly newsletter delivered to your e-mailbox! Want to see more? Go back to All the Words main page.

February 15, 2007
Slang of the Week: First Life (noun phrase)
real life, as opposed to the one you have in the virtual online world Second Life

Jason wants to meet girls in First Life, but in the real world, you can’t click on them and see their profiles before you talk to them. It’s just too hard.

Celebrity quote:
America's teens, your First Life dream world awaits. Hang out at the mall! Embarrass yourself in gym class! Get acne! Experiment with mind-altering recreational drugs! The First Life world is your oyster.”
—blogger Darren Barefoot

If you’re like me, the countless hours you spend on the computer are mostly working. But apparently, some people have lots more free time. Second Life is a kind of 21st century online Fantasy Island, in which you can take on a new and interesting identity, get some “land,” build yourself a “castle,” open a “nightclub” or meet the “person” of your dreams. (Before you get excited, I should note that not all of this is free. To buy your own virtual private island, for example, costs $1,675 for 65,536 square meters and you have to pay steep monthly maintenance fees—castle not included.)

But as a First Life kind of gal who spends most of her time in the meatspace (the physical world,) I find the terminology more interesting than the online community itself. First Life is a retronym—a new word for an old idea. Retronyms are invented when something comes along that makes an old word ambiguous.

As an example, we used to just have ovens. Then we had microwave ovens. Once every house in the industrialized world had a microwave oven, cookbooks had to start using “conventional oven” for the original version to make the distinction clear. Other retronyms include land line (as opposed to cell phone), regular coffee (as opposed to decaffeinated) and at least here in the US, two-parent family. Oh, how times have changed!

I hope you all have a great long weekend (well, it’s long if you’re stateside). I plan to spend mine watching silent movies, listening to AM radio and doing a little work for my day job. But right now, I’ll have to leave you so that I can meet my friend Natalia (a natural blond) to eat some organic food. I hope you enjoy this email newsletter just as much as if it were a hard copy.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick from our new Fun with Englishpage: Crazy English by Richard Lederer. A humorous guide to retronyms, anagrams, oxymorons and other kinds of fun word play, it’s a classic for logophiles (word lovers)!