Last week I warned you that you might think I was out of my mind when you read what I have to say about what may going to happen to information technology — and when. I pointed out that the changes we have seen since Lolly and I moved up here to Rim Country are truly incredible if you stop and think about them, and that the potential for even faster change is very high.
You know what started me thinking about all this? I have gradually become so used to doing some things with my dumb computer that it didn’t strike me what I was doing until one evening not long ago. But then I stopped and looked at what I was doing and was truly amazed.
“Holy mackerel, Garrett!” I said to myself. “Do you realize that what you just did so casually would have been impossible just a few years ago!”
Here’s what happened: I was typing a column. I used the term “scott free.” It was the third time I had used the term lately, either in a column or on the online forum. All three times I wondered why I had seen it spelled both “scot free” and “scott free.” Finally, I had time to look it up.
First I tried my online dictionary, but it only takes one word at a time. Then I entered it into a browser and was doubly pleased because someone over in the UK had created a site called “Phrases” which I thought would come in handy, and because I thought the site would answer my question.
And did it ever!
First, it told me what I already knew, that spelled either way it was right, and meant “without incurring payment; or escaping without punishment.”
Then it answered the riddle of why it could be spelled “scott” or “scot.” We here in the States think it’s spelled “scott” after Dred Scott, the famous slave who sued when he was taken back to a slave state from a free state and was declared to be “property” under the current laws. You see, even though he lost his case, Scott was set free by the people who owned him.
But that’s the wrong derivation. We have to look to Scotland for its origin, but not because Scotsmen are tight with their money. “Skat,” the site said, is a Scandinavian word for tax or payment and the word migrated to Britain and mutated into “scot” as a church tax for the relief of the poor, as in “church scot.” Whatever the tax, the phrase “getting off scot free” meant not having to pay that tax.
Had I quit there, this column would never have been written because it’s what happened next that convinced me that we live in an age which is about to be remembered in history as one of extraordinary change. The article went on to tell how the term morphed into its figurative meaning of getting away with something. It quoted from a book I had never heard of, Robert Greene’s 1588 book, “The Historie of Dorastus and Fawnia,” which includes this: “These and the like considerations something daunted Pandosto, so that hee was content rather to put up a manifest injurie with peace, then hunt after revenge, dishonor and losse; determining since Egistus had escaped scot-free, that Bellaria should pay for all at an unreasonable price.”
With not a hope in the world of ever finding out one word more about what the hey some 1588 novel was all about, I casually went to the browser again. And yes, I am now the proud owner of the 1588 book “Pandosto, or The Historie of Dorastus and Fawnia.” I also know that Fawnia was “had” by Egistus, and since Egistus had escaped scot free, Pandosto had decided — as men will — to make poor Fawnia pay the price for what happened.
You can get a free copy too if you want one. Can you believe that? A book written in 1588? Free?
Takes about 10 seconds.
You know what I think? Some day soon a computer will be a small gadget located somewhere in a pocket. The display will not be on a screen; it will appear in your “inner eye” when you tell it to be there. You’ll think a question like, “Now what the hey does Kilima N’Jaro mean?” The answer — along with a suitable image — will pop up. “Hi, Tom. That’s the indigenous name for Mount Kilimanjaro.”
And you know what, Johnny?
People won’t think anymore of it than we do of the once-impossible things we do right now.