Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Playing DVDs on Your DVD

Posted by Neal on October 7, 2004

Ah, if only I’d bought the extended warranty they tried to sell me two years ago. Now our DVD player puts a strange, herringbone-like pattern on our TV screen, which gives my wife a headache, and the repair guy says it’s going to cost a lot to fix. About the same as getting a new DVD player with a fresh warranty on it, so now I have to deal with the guilt of the over-consuming American, getting a new DVD player and figuring out what to do with the old one that still mostly works.

“There is a third option,” I suggested to my wife. “Just take our old DVD player back home, hook it up again, and live with it.”

So anyway, here I am at the electronics store, looking for the aisle with DVD players in it. I’ve passed the TVs, and the VCRs, and now there’s an aisle with signs saying “DVDs.” As it happens, there is not a single DVD in that entire aisle, but luckily for me, it does have plenty of DVD players.

Why has this bit of irregular polysemy arisen, such that DVD can refer to an actual DVD, or a DVD player? I speculate that it has to do with the three-letter acronym for the precursor to DVD players: VCRs. People are accustomed to using a TLA to talk about things that play their videos; DVD fits the description, so DVD player gets shortened to DVD.

Ten minutes later, as I signed up for the 4-year extended warranty, I figured the associate who was helping me had made such an easy sale that he wouldn’t object to an irrelevant question that had been on my mind for a couple of days. When my wife and I had talked about prices for DVD players, in two different conversations she’d said that someone had told her he could “put us in a 5-disc DVD player” for X amount of dollars. I’ve heard this usage of put from car salesmen, but this was the first I’d heard it generalized to the selling of other items. It sounded kind of painful, and reminded me of this Steve Martin bit. I didn’t know if my wife had been repeating the salesperson’s exact words or not, so I asked this guy if he’d ever heard any of his coworkers say it. He hadn’t, though, so that’s as far as that story goes for now.

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2 Responses to “Playing DVDs on Your DVD”

  1. Anonymous said

    The DVD Player/DVD part of this post recalls something I’ve wondered about for a long time: how come when two little peanuts are in their native shell, we call the whole ensemble “a peanut,” but once we remove the tasty morsels we have “peanuts” and a peanut shell?

    Relatedly, shouldn’t the Planter’s mascot be either “Mr. Peanuts” or “Mr. Shell”? Maybe his full name is actually “Mr. Peanut Shell,” and we just call him Mr. Peanut the way my children refer to their pediatrician as “Dr. Bob.”

  2. [...] I popped the DVD in the DVD and pulled up the scene for Doug, and as I watched it, I suddenly picked up on … (answer [...]

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