Another Perspective

Hooked Phones and Other Fables

Something to think about for the foreseeable future.

By 5.23.11

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"Our phones have been ringing off the hook," said Rep. Michelle Bachmann about the response to her statement that she was seriously considering a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Her office must have very old telephones for there hasn't been one made with hooks since the 1930s.

My late Aunt Alice had a phone with a hook. It stood in a niche in the hallway wall. It was tall, about ten inches, with the speaker at the top and a hook on the side on which rested the earpiece. One would lift that off the hook and hold it to one's ear. There was no dial. Taking the earpiece off the hook activated the system and an operator would say, "Number, please." The caller would then give her the number and she would connect the call. Aunt Alice might have said, "Piedmont 2277, please," for in the days of hooked phones all numbers had named prefixes, and long before there were area codes.

If one received a great many calls, it would be described as "the phone is ringing off the hook." That now-antique phrase continues although today's telephones rest in cradles or slots in plastic dialing boxes, which also have buttons to do various other things. Or, they are cell/mobile phones for which the phrase would be, "The phone is ringing out of my hands. 

So, please, Rep. Bachmann, exchange those antique phones you purchased for modern ones. If you keep them, your solicitors won't be able to interrupt potential donors at the dinner hour since there are no longer live operators at the telephone company and phones with hooks have no dials. 

Another head-scratching phrase is one beloved by economists and people in the world of finance. It is "the foreseeable future," as in, "I think this trend will hold for the foreseeable future." How is that possible since no one except God can see the future? That is, unless some hedge fund manager or the Messrs. Bernanke and Geithner have established direct hot lines to Heaven. A better phrase would be, "I think this trend will continue for a while," but that would be admitting that the speaker is guessing and cannot, indeed, see the future.

What can we make of another phrase, "to Hell in a handbasket." It is often used by people who have been around awhile about the state of the world, as in "The World's still going to Hell in a handbasket." The phrase means to attain something without much effort. A handbasket is a light and easy thing to carry; hence, the world is falling apart with no special effort on the part of the speaker.

One fable that needs to be stood on its head is the one involving Robin Hood. The usual description is "He robbed from the rich to give to the poor." No he didn't. He took money from the tax collector who he thought had unfairly taken it and gave it back to the people from whom it had been extracted. He and his Merry Men were a sort of Tea Party posse fighting -- and defeating -- overtaxation.

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”