Saturday, January 06, 2007


I came across a Broadcasting Machine the other day. You might, perhaps, expect to find such a thing in a studio, and expect a lot of wires and a few microphones to be involved. But no such thing. It was at Temple Newsam Farm, on the outskirts of Leeds, in an exhibition of farm machinery.

Here it is:

Of course! It was a machine designed to give a more even cover of seeds on the ground. If you wanted to sow grass or clover you would use a hand-operated one, and a horse-drawn one for corn. It didn’t look too complicated and I could picture the farmers marvelling at its efficiency.

So the original definition of broadcasting – firstly borrowed, then stolen, then completely superseded by the early days of radio - was “sowing seeds over a wide area” – as opposed to sowing them in neat rows.

Being interested in the way language changes, I had a look on which searches for your word in lots of dictionaries. Of the eighteen online dictionaries that it found, only three mentioned “broadcasting” in the “scattering seeds” sense and one pointed out that this was an archaic use of the word.

And so it is. How many times have I said the word “broadcasting” and never given a thought to where the word might come from originally?

How our language has changed! Even the earliest recordings that I have heard – such as George Bernard Shaw speaking – sound as though they come from a far-distant time, both in the use of words and in the pronunciation. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to hear a recording of how people really spoke in the past: to hear farmers talking about their new broadcasting machine?


Blogger Silverback said...

On a slightly similar topic, I love the BBC site ( it holds recordings of all the various accents and dialects in the UK. It's fun to listen to them and even do the quiz where you have to place the region from a recording.
I pass the site to all my US friends who think we all speak like BBC newscasters and then settle back to hear them say "I didn't understand a word that Geordie was saying".
I make them feel better by saying "well, neither does most of the rest of the UK"

10:00 pm  

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