Oxford Dictionary Removes 'Cassette Tape,' Gets Sound Lashing From Audiophiles
Sometimes it takes a drastic effort to correct a drastic mistake, but banning a dictionary from a museum?
Hey, if that's what it takes, that's what museum owner Bucks Burnett is going to do.
Let's rewind a bit. Last week, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary announced the newest words added to its hefty tome. New words getting the wordsmith seal of approval include "sexting," "retweet" and "mankini."
The new words story is one that always gets lots of press, as it allows journalists to write a quick story remarking on how times have changed.
But what usually gets downplayed are the words that get the axe.
This year, the lords of lexicons have eliminated archaic terms like "brabble" (which is a "paltry noisy quarrel") and "growlery" (a private room or den), but also terms still in common use until recently like "cassette tape."
It's the removal of that last term that has Burnett, a music historian in Dallas, very, very angry. You might say he's mad as hell and not going to tape it anymore.
Burnett owns the Eight Track Museum, a shrine of sorts dedicated to other defunct formats, such as the original wax cylinders introduced by Thomas Edison, 78 rpm records made from shellac, vinyl LPs and 45s.
And, yes, he has those same cassette tapes whose very name and literary existence will soon cease to exist to readers of the Oxford English Dictionary.
So he's fighting fire with fire.
"Mankini?" he said with disgust. "That settles it! I'm going to ban the Oxford Dictionary from the museum. I have a copy and I'm going to recycle it!"
"This decision to remove the word was made inside a Starbucks by 20-something editors on their lunch break," he said. "See if they still have the moon listed in the dictionary. I bet they do. Nobody uses the damn moon anymore, not even NASA."
Let's pause for a second: for those unfamiliar with cassette tapes because they're too busy reading the OED.
The cassette is a magnetic tape sound recording format that is slightly bigger than a credit card (and much thicker). It was introduced in 1963 and it made home recording much more available than before.
Its heyday was in the 1980s when the homemade mix tape craze coincided with the rise of boomboxes, and the portable tape player known as the Walkman.
The format declined with introduction of the compact disc in the later years of the decade.
"They still make them -- albeit the market is small," Burnett said. "There are numerous stories everywhere the past year about lots of indie bands putting out cassette-only albums with fantastic design."
One of the people who is going back to the future with cassettes is Matthew Sage, 23, who manages Patient Sounds, a tape-focused label based in Fort Collins, Colo.
The label releases tape albums in batches of 100 at a time and Sage says the tapes have a tangible aesthetic appeal.
“The work involved in dubbing the tapes, cutting the inserts and making the tapes is half of the process for me," he told NPR. "The tape is more an art object that also plays music (similar to vinyl) where the CDR is more a vessel for a piece of music.”
Sage gives a sound lashing to the dictionary divas who made the anti-cassette edict.
"I am doubly offended," he told HuffPost. "To have someone say that something I use and deal with every day is defunct or not worthy of being in the dictionary is laughable."
Although some people diss the cassette tapes for having bad sound quality, Burnett says that's not entirely true.
"Every format has its pros and cons, and while pre-made cassettes never sounded good, homemade tapes can sound fabulous," Burnett said.
Meanwhile, Lyle Owerko, a photographer who has also written a history about the effect of boomboxes on pop culture, says the cassette still has a sound place in the hearts of many.
"Cassette Tapes are still a manner of sonic currency in the world," he insisted. "How many Bob Marley tapes are blaring out of the boombox of some oceanside bar straddling the hips of the equator today? Innumerable, that's for sure! From Thailand to Tahiti, the cassette tape was whirling out some good-times tunes to someone kicking back on a warm afternoon."
Since the world still uses tape-related slang like "fast-forward," "pause" and, of course, "mixtape," Owerko thinks the OED editors are beating a dead horse before the horse is actually dead.
"Eliminating 'cassette tape' from the Oxford dictionary is like prematurely announcing the demise of the penny as a monetary instrument just because of online banking," he said. "Or the fountain pen being blotted out of history due to the ubiquity of keyboards, texting and touch screens."
To be fair, the removal of "cassette tape" from the OED doesn't erase them from pop culture and, who knows, maybe the efforts of folks like Sage and Burnett might convince editors to add it back in. "They still have 'brontosaurus' in there I bet," Burnett added slyly.
While there aren't words to express how Burnett feels -- especially since he's removing his dictionary from the store -- the news about the OED's decision comes at an amazingly appropriate time for him.
"I just bought a 1995 truck and I finally have a player for all my cassettes including 100 hours of interviews I did with [1960s era singer] Tiny Tim," he said. "I think I'm going to spend some time enjoying those now."