Tuesday, August 08, 2006

2 9 4 8 7 ( No Mail Today )


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If this building had been built after 1963 it would have had 2 9 4 8 7 plastered on the front as this is the zip code for Wadmalaw Island, SC. This building dates to a bit before 1963 which is the year when zip codes were introduced in the United States. They were seen as something of a humbug back then and not widely used. It would be many years before the US Postal System would refuse to deliver mail without one. Back in those days people wrote letters, thank you notes, invitations, condolences, rather than calling them in or e-mailing them as is more often the case.

This was the Wadmalaw Island Post Office way back when. In those days, if you wrote a friend in Charleston from Charleston you simply put the name, street address then " City " and that, as they say, was that. Sometimes just the person's name on the envelope would land that letter at their door. Of course, a prominent name such as Jenkins or Townsend without further documentation might wind up in the dead letter office out on the sea islands.

Not only could you skip the zip code for many years after it became law, you could also skip the first two digits of all local Charleston telephone exchanges for years after they were established. Charleston grew enough that we had 5 digit telephone numbers in the late 50's and into the early 60's. Then one day, Southern Bell, a part of a nationwide telephone system which actually worked, told subscribers that they had to learn two more digits. The 7 digit telephone number had arrived. To buffer the assault on our brains, Southern Bell gave each exchange a name. This also gave us that big town feel like phone numbers in the movies. The first two letters of these names corresponded to the first two digits of the new phone numbers.

For example: all of the Charleston peninsula was RAymond so that if your full phone number had become 722-0000 it was called RA2-0000. Folly Beach was JUniper which made some sense, but the area west of the Ashley was called SNow for no apparent reason considering our climate. They could have used MOon. At least the folks in the Crescent would make sense of it.

Speaking of corrupted naming schemes, there is no such place as " Ashley " nor is there such named town as " Cooper " anywhere near Charleston, S.C. There are communities such as Avondale, Wappoo Heights, Moreland, Maryville, Windemere, Old and South, all of which are west of the Ashley River, but there is no such place as " West Ashley ". Likewise, there is no " East Cooper ". In the rush to expedite the reporting of news and weather, reporters save their valuable time by simply dumbing down the language. Corruption of geographical names is a good start on the road to debasing the language. The migration into meaninglessness furthers this process with expressions such as " intellectually challenged " for a the slow learner or the even less meaningful " native American ". The former hides from reality, the latter corrupts reality. These lies put us within reach of Orwell.

Television greatly accelerated this odious process, but the newspapers have come along quietly. Even the venerable POST AND COURIER shows some erosion of meaningful language in an effort to keep up with the dumbing down process of their competitors. When you debase a nation's currency, you wreck their economy. When you debase the language, you devalue the culture. If we continue down this garden path, we won't need any new post offices. People will in time lose the ability to write as pecking out abbreviated non-words on the keyboard will supplant valid written thoughts and ideas. So when the power goes off and it will be going off more frequently as time passes, most folks without their computers or TV will just simply languish in a stalled state as useless as that building in the photo above.

4 Comments:

Blogger Heather said...

Very thought provoking.

On a related note, with the high summer heat, Santee Cooper has recently had to curtail power to Nucor. When they are down it's like bringing another generator online. Unfortunately, it's a very expensive trade off.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Windviel said...

Thanks for the kind words, Heather, and yes, we are going to see our electric power go down and off more frequently. Santee-Cooper is being required to study the effects of their hydro electric system on a certain breed of fish. If there's a Snail Darter in the woodpile, stand by for more blackouts.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Ellen said...

Sir, if you haven't yet published a book, may I be so bold as to suggest doing so?

If you have, please advise where I might purchase one. I do enjoy your writing.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Windviel said...

Ellen, that's strong encouragement and narcotically appealing to anyone who has put pen to paper. Something may come this and sooner than later with such support. Thank you very much.

1:22 AM  

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