While reading this weekend I ran across a word that caught my eye. This passage stirred my interest:
If you notice by the boldface type, dashboard is the word that drew my attention. It turned up in a chapter of “War and Peace,” written by Leo Tolstoy back in the middle 1800s – at about the time of our Civil War.
I found myself fascinated to a word used so long ago and with a completely different meaning, although somewhat related to the way we use it today in our digital word.
It demonstrates, I think, the long lifespan of some words in the English language and their survival instincts. They survive by taking on different shades of meaning, or entirely different meanings. At the same time, the word demonstrates how our language evolves as we pass from one historic era to another.
At that the time of “War and Peace,” as we know from history – and certainly if we know the Civil War – horses provided the primary transportation, whether as a single mount or pulling carriages or wagons.
A team of horses would set things in motion — and sometimes they dashed – as in fast. When that happened, flashing hooves would kick up mud or dirt or, in Tolstoy’s story, snow, which would not be good news for riders or drivers.
To guard against that, a protective board or more elaborate piece was placed at front of the vehicle.
The key word in that sentence is front. When automobiles came along, some words moved from horse and buggy days to more modern times. For example, we measure a car’s horsepower and Fisher Coachworks ties today’s automobiles to the era when the Fisher brothers built bodies for horseless carriages.
And inside the car at front is, of course, the dashboard. It has kept its primary purpose of protecting driver and passengers – providing a cushion against the trauma of a wreck. But today it has evolved so that when we say dashboard, we usually mean the place where all the gadgets cluster for driver – and sometimes passengers — to read or watch or hear.
That new meaning bridges the years to our computer world, in which dashboard has come to mean a place – in a Web site, for instance – where one goes for a menu of items needed to manage his or her site. The “controls,” as it were, as in a car.
I have to save and preview this blog and then go through my dashboard to see how it is going to look when published.
It should look great. Another informative island in the vast, churning sea of Internet offerings. (If you aren’t happy with the results, let me know)