NO, ALEX! IT IS YOU WHO IS WRONG ABOUT PADDLES!
That, however, is not why I’ve chosen to feature this comment in “The Critics Respond” this week. It was the amateur semanticist within me, not the “professional” racer, who demanded that I use Mr. Antonoglou’s post as an example of how words can both lose and gain meaning when people are sloppy about understanding what they’ve read.
Also, I FB stalked the guy and came upon a really scary picture. Click the jump to see it.
Alex is either a 599 Fiorano owner or someone who borrows one a lot — I don’t know enough Greek to tell you which. He took the above photo at a “Ferrari trackday”. Is that an F40 almost getting centerpunched? Doesn’t look good, whatever it is.
In any event, Alex writes in response to yesterday’s 488GTB article and tells me that, with shift paddles fixed to the steering wheel, “You can apply lock and still change gear as you always know where the paddles are.” Putting aside the shuffle-steering-vs.-formula-car-hand-position debate for a moment, what does he mean, “apply lock”?
That phrase started appearing in English car magazines a couple of decades back, and far as I can tell, here’s the etymology of it. It began with the phrase “opposite lock”, which meant that you were “steering into the skid” so far that you turned the wheel until it hit the stop, or “lock”, at the end of its travel. Most car magazines publish “Turns, lock to lock,” to denote how many times you can turn the wheel. This was a big deal back when cars didn’t have power steering and ratios were very slow. A car with five turns lock to lock would be easy to park but tiring on the freeway.
It’s considered a big deal in English magazines to “give it oppo” because that is indicative of a major drift. At some point the phrase “dab of oppo” appeared, meaning a little bit of opposite lock. That’s like being a little bit pregnant — either you’re at the opposite lock or you aren’t — but it didn’t stop people from using the phrase, both seriously and playfully.
Now we have the idea of “winding on lock”, which is when you, um, apply steering that does not reach the lock. And “unwinding lock” which is the opposite. By 2010 or so, “lock” had become a synonym for “steering”, which is how Alex uses the word. He’s not a native English speaker, so I have no beef with him simply repeating what he’s read elsewhere. My problem is with the writers who should know better.
Hear me now and believe me later: The joy, the gift, the wonder of the English language is in its abundance of potential meaning, its proliferation of available words. It’s a language that has both “beautiful” and “gorgeous” in its quiver, allowing a skilled writer to make effective use of the difference between those words. It has “amazing” and “astounding” and “terrific” and woe be to the person who thinks they are synonyms.
As we fold, spindle, and mutilate our mother tongue, all the better to make it fit the available communication bandwidths, both electromagnetic and intellectual, in our low-function society, we are losing meaning. It is slipping away from us and it will not easily return. This is not a process we can arrest but we can retard it a bit by becoming stewards of meaning within our own writing.
When you write “amazing” in place of “good”, you are doing to the language what the overuse of antibiotics in chicken farms does to bacterial resistance in hospitals: you’re pumping up the volume for short-term gain and something is being lost in exchange. When you indulge in the perpetual outrage machine that characterizes modern political discourse and you permit that machine to color your discourse with words like “racist”, “fascist”, “communist”, you bleach the meaning from those words. The day will come when you really need those ideas and concepts and you will find that we’ll all built up an immunity to them from overexposure.
I will do my part. I will not write “wonderful” unless the object of my adjective truly engenders wonder. I will not write “amazing” unless I am honestly amazed. And I will not be doing anything with “lock” except reaching it during an episode of parallel parking. I promise.