To screen or not to screen


While the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon that cried “verbing weirds language” made a startement both wry and true, there are times when we can legitimately make the case for a new verb.

I’m not thinking of an unwanted and uninvited new word like “medalled”. That awkward verb will be said over and over this summer during London 2012, and I will feel a little pang of loss for our language every time. “Medalled” serves no new purpose – the nature of winning medals in sporting events has not changed noticeably – but it has manage to settle itself in to the vocabulary of our journalists and commentators almost unchallenged.

The verb I am going to put forward and test in the bear-pit of conversation and blogging is “to screen”.

Kevin Kelly offered this new verb in a talk he gave last year about the future of books.

“We are people of the screen,” he said, explaining that screens are appearing everywhere, that many people spend most of their time with them. “Publishing”, “posting”, “broadcasting”, “sharing”, all of these verbs dance awkwardly around what we are doing when we add things to great information machine that is the Web. Others then – we hope – go to that massive tangle of content, pick their way through with search engines and filters and feeds until they find something they want to screen.

It is always the screen that we use to see, to take in, to make sense of this world, what Kelly calls the windows into the machine.

While I like “to screen”, and I will use it, I can’t be sure that it will become a part of our language, of course. Just giving you fair warning that I will be weirding some language near you soon…

: : Another thought: looking through my Flickr photos for an image to accompany this post, I noticed there were very few pictures of screens. Of course I was looking at them on a screen, just as you are reading this on a screen (please raise a virtual hand if you reading this on a print out, or have your blog reading transcribed into wet sand or some other rmedium), but there were few pictures of screens…

The best screens are invisible, hardly noticed, the cleanest windows, forgotten as we look through them. I remember thinking that about the first iPad and again with the newest one – the brilliance of it is that it is all screen – that the machine gets entirely out of the way of the screen.

One response to “To screen or not to screen”

  1. Our language for online is so tangled with metaphors from the last age.

    “Screen” is as complicated as “friend” and “share”.

    We “screen” infants from unhealthy things. Film makers have “screenings” where they “screen” their latest creations. It’s contaminated.

    To me, “make public” is perhaps more explicit. Though “public” is also wrong if it’s with our groups, friends, colleagues or family.

    More new verbs, please. Not medalled, ofc. But ones that express some of the nuances.

Leave a Reply