Monday, 3 March 2014

The Name of the Phone

Today is — or would have been; you know what I mean — the birthday of Alexander Graham Bell, the Scots-Canadian inventor and therapist for people who had hearing difficulties who invented the Bellophone, into which one bellows.

Adler, an early colleague of Freud, had a theory that people’s occupations were dictated  or at least influenced by their surnames; a sort of reversal of the way many surnames themselves developed: people called ‘Smith’ for instance had an early, pre-surname ancestor who was in fact a smith. (Since there are many different kinds of smith, there are now a lot of Smiths.) The theory is now largely discredited, partly because when another colleague asked Adler where he found the many examples he used in his paper on the subject he said ‘I made them up’, but mainly because it’s one of those ideas that depend on ‘anecdotal evidence’ — we remember the cases where the idea seems to be ‘confirmed’, and don’t even notice the many more where it isn’t. Even so, it is interesting that the man who invented the telephone, and worked on ideas to help deaf people communicate, should have had such an appropriate name.

As Spike Milligan said, the first telephone was in fact useless: things only really got going when someone invented the second telephone. If anyone out there would like to have a better idea how telephones work, there is an explanation in my ‘Book’ (not published in actual book form) ‘The Anatomy of Wireless’. This is available as a pdf document from me, free to anyone who asks.

But back to Adler’s theory: I once discussed it with the psychiatrist Julian Goodburn, and he told me that his father had been a fireman.

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