Does Calling it a "Cell Phone" Make you Seem Stupid?

May 6, 2008

So I call my mobile device a cell phone, a lot of the time. I’m kind of in the biz (mobile and Web development), so maybe it matters, my jargon.

Cameron Moll, in his book “Mobile Web Design” decries this habit as podunk and indicative of a culture ignorant of the impact (or potential impact) of mobile devices. Stop, he urges us, calling them “cell phones.” It marks you as techtards. This is very much my paraphrasing. The rest of the book is fairly valuable. I read it last September, in the sun, in the Okanagan Valley in Canada, but the cell phone terminology argument sticks in my craw.

I guess what I think is that it’s not terribly relevant. Do we insist on knocking down the doors of our British friends and demanding that they stop calling it the “telly?” Or that pluralizing the Internet is the end of the world? Perhaps more than other words, technical ones tend to be consistent across geographies. But I still think there’s a bit of room for regionalism.  People still know what I’m talking about.

Or maybe it’s just that Moll has called me out, and my contrary nature now makes me extra recalcitrant to change my ways. What do you think?


  1. tODD says:

    The linguist in me (correction: the student in me who took two linguistics classes and now refers to himself, parenthetically, as a linguist) sees both a descriptive and a prescriptive take on this.

    The descriptivist in me says that people will call it what they will, so complaining about it is largely pointless. All it does is antagonize the people and make the complainer out to be an elitist with too much free time. Lots of things have foolish names, especially in English. Whaddya gonna do?

    The prescriptivist in me usually wins this particular battle, though, because I consider myself technologically informed. I call it a “mobile phone”, which it is, regardless of technology — though I won’t correct people if they say “cell phone”. The argument from this side is similar to complaining about calling a tsunami a “tidal wave” — it’s not remotely related to tides.

    Nothing wrong with calling a television a “telly”. Or a mobile phone a “handy” (as they do in Germany, I’m told). And I’m pretty sure “the Internets” is a phrase used by snarky bloggers to mock technological rubes, along with “the Google” — it may not be the “end of the world”, but it’s not an argument in favor of “cell phones”.

  2. tODD says:

    P.S. As you may have realized by now, it is my attempt to eventually take over your blog by writing more than you do. This is because I don’t actually want to write on my own blog anymore.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Am I missing something here? Now, granted, my expertise here is a little dated, but seeing as of, oh, say circa 2002 I was publishing papers on these sorts of things and meeting the architects of these, uh, architectures, you’d think at one point I knew what I was talking about. Having said all of that, I believe it’s perfectly fucking fine to call them “cell” phones as long as they’re based on a “cellular” architecture. And, again, unless AT&T has been up to some stuff I’m not privy to, it is my understanding that your “mobile freakin’ telecommunications device” is still entirely predicated on connecting to “base station” which covers a “cell”.

    You know, as in “cellular”.

    So what is the problem here, again?

  4. autumn says:

    i have no opinion on this subject except that i like that you used “recalcitrant” which is an awesome word.

  5. Lyza Gardner says:

    Both Todd and Jeremy have nice, relevant responses. Todd, I too took linguistics in college. I tend to be a descriptivist except when it comes to written grammar in English, and even then it’s something I like to do but don’t really force on others. Mostly I think I’m smarting because I feel like I’ve been told I suck for using the wrong term.

  6. Brett says:

    It’s obvious Cameron never gets laid.

  7. Brett says:

    P.S. Though I must admit he’s kinda cute.

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