The French nailed it: The more things change; the more they remain the same. Take the panel of dials and needles and switches and knobs that runs across the span of the car from port to starboard just behind the steering wheel.
That’s right, the dashboard. But why ‘dash’? It’s not as if the thing is running anywhere.
Different ‘dash’. This one means, as my dictionary puts it: “to strike or smash violently, so as to break to pieces”.
Back in the days when vehicles were quite literally driven by horse power, occupants would have been dashed with gravel, grit and mud hurled up by the horses’ churning hooves — but for the ‘dashboard’ that deflected the stuff.
It’s been a few decades since most people depended on horse drawn carriages to get them down to the mall or up to the cottage, but the dashboard endures, even though it’s now embedded with a constellation of gizmos — tachometer, speedometer, odometer, clock, fuel gauge, turn flashers, battery indicator, GPS readout, AM/FM radio and CD player to name a few.
The horn in the centre of the steering wheel endures too — and that goes back to the barbaric days of Visigoths and Vikings and the like when marauders summoned their troops or prefaced their raids by having the guy with the hardiest lungs blow a blood-curdling solo into the narrow end of a hollowed-out cow’s horn.
What’s more, most automobile dashboards still feature an inlaid lockable recess on the front passenger seat side. We call it a glove compartment, even though it’s usually overflowing with roadmaps, gas station serviettes, a car manual, a tire pressure gauge and a handful of ancient, fossilized candies that only a desperately famished human would bring to his mouth. The glove compartment has become a repository for everything but gloves. Come on, now — when’s the last time you packed a pair of lambskin gloves in there to protect your hands while you’re working the reins?
Ironically, the venerable dashboard concept has made the leap to cyberspace. Keyboard technogeeks routinely download and customize a computer display that keeps them up to date with weather reports, time zones, news headlines, stock prices, phone numbers and pretty well anything else they want to check on regularly.
The name for this cutting edge computer feature? Why, ‘dashboard’ of course.
Young’uns must be bewildered by the terminology the rest of us grew up with. Thankfully we no longer have to try to explain concepts like clutches and throttles.
I’m still trying to come up with a credible story for that little round hole in the dashboard. You know — the one you plug your GPS unit or your cell phone or your iPod or your laptop into. I can hear the conversation in my head already.
“Did you have Xbox and Gameboy when you were a kid, grandpaw?”
No, I will say.
“Then, why’dja have that adaptor on your dashboard? What didja use it for?”
And I will explain we called that adapter ‘the lighter’. And that, as incredible as it may sound, there was a time when people voluntarily inserted dried weeds wrapped up in a paper tube in their mouth and set fire to one end of the tube, sucking the smoke out of the other. The ‘lighter’ was what we used to ignite the tube of weeds.
“Wouldn’t that make you sick?” he will ask.
Not only sick, I will tell him, it would eventually kill anybody who did it long enough.
“Did it make people happy?” he’ll ask.
Not particularly, I’ll say. In fact, if you stopped doing it, it made you very grouchy.
“But Grandpaw,” he’ll say, “That sounds crazy.”
And I will have to answer, yes.
Yes, it does.