Unless you live in North Korea or are a caveman, you must surely know what a Phone is. You probably even have a smart one, a Smartphone. But I don’t blame you if you don’t know where the word Phone comes from, as not everyone knows Greek! After these definitions, I’ll tell you where the name of this device came from which is so important for us today.

Dictionary Definition

Phone: Noun. (Formal) Telephone. A device that uses either a system of wires along which electrical signals are sent or a system of radio signals to make it possible for you to speak to someone in another place who has a similar device. (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)

Phone: Verb. To communicate with someone by phone. (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)

Phone: Noun. (Phonetics) Any single speech sound considered as a physical event without reference to its place in the structure of a language. (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

We use the phone every day in the most varied forms. But curiously, what we do the least now is to make phone calls. Anyhow, Phone is still a very common word. The Collins English Dictionary places it among the 4,000 most used words in our language.

That’s why it’s so important that you don’t make a mistake when using the word Phone.

Here are some examples:

“While the majority of phone makers saw a decrease in sales during the first quarter, Huawei saw an increase in shipments by 50%.”

From Andorid Central website Article: Phone sales declined in 2019, though Huawei increased sales by 50%. 2019

New York City detainees now have access to completely free phone calls, thanks to the implementation of a City Council bill aimed at making jails more humane.”

From Queens Daily Eagle website Article: City picks up the tab for detainees who pick up the phone. 2019

The protocols, STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs), will make it harder for scammers to hide their actual phone numbers.”

From NBC News website Article: See the new tool in the fight against robocalls. 2019

Clipped at birth

Our language is full of clipped words for ease of use, pronunciation or writing, and Phone is one of them. Just as Bus at some time was Omnibus, Taxi was at some time Taximeter, and Fridge was at some time Refridgerator, so was Phone at some time Telephone. However, for practical reasons, we left only the second half.

In the past, the etymology of the word honored the device invented in the 1800s. In order to give it a name, it was taken from the Greek the words tele, which meant “Far off, at or to a distance” and phōnē, which meant “sound, voice”. Therefore, a Telephone was a device that provided “Sound at a distance”. 

It is believed that the blame for cutting the word was due to the informative articles of the time. In order to explain how the telephone functioned, they compared it with other sound transmission devices such as the microphone, the megaphone and the phonograph, and gathered them all in the term “phones”.

But the telephone had a revolutionary impact that other “phones” did not have. Thus it was this one that was left at the end with the clipped term. This became the official term from 1990, a time when there was a second technologic revolution with the widespread use of cell phones, and most other devices in the “phones” category became obsolete.This proves that languages are alive. Languages change with the use we make of them. However, that doesn’t mean that we should take it as an excuse to feed laziness and mispronounce words! Not even when we talk on the phone.

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