From “Five by Five” to “Muggles”: the language of geocaching #RochdaleStoryTrail #ThursdayThoughtsDay

My dad is a radio engineer. He is an old school valve prodder, soldering master, and motherboard fixer. In the early 1990s my dad managed a small CB Radio maintenance company located somewhere along the M6. This was in the dying days of Citizens Band radio, just around the time when the recession was at its worst. (My family has a knack for the darkest of comedy timing.)  Soon, probably around 1991, the shack was gone, lewd “bonking” keyrings, Playboy bunny girl outline LED light displays, “My Other Lorry Is A Lamborghini” stickers and all.

So why am I telling you this? What relevance does an obsolete form of technology and a family anecdote have to geocaching? Well, it’s to do with language, the sort of slippery shared linguistics that specific cliques can form. Further, it’s got something to do with the speed at which language mutates. In 1979, what would have been the Zeitgeist of CB radio, Richard David Ramsey wrote ‘The People Versus Smokey Bear: Metaphor, Argot, and CB Radio’, an academic paper looking at the “slanguage” of CB radio speaking. Ramsey, rather enthusiasticly, called CB radio ‘the foremost electronic-media phenomenon of the 1970s’ suggesting that this form of oral communication is packed with metaphor. Ramsey argues that the CB Group rather problematically stretches another metaphor that compares the community as being as oppressed as sexual and ethic minority groups. Travelling across the highways and byways, wire curling up from the unit, radio handset clasped with a thumb on the button, Ramsey observes that the CB group perceived themselves collectively as anti-authoritarian “good guys” versus “Smokey” the police/powers that be.

Fast forward twenty something years, the proliferation of affordable mobile phone technologies and the rise of TXT SPK, shorthand for filling in 153 character limit text messages. And the small, but inevitable, moral panic about the loss of literacy (see Bennett 2001). (Have another anecdote: picture a bookseller with perpetual bad hair days, falling over piles of the best-seller Wan 2 Tlk? Ltle Bk of TXT Msgs. This was a mini primer on text message etiquette, emoticons, and a glossary of shortened “wrds”.) Studies on the use of “textese” and levels of literacy attainment continue (see, for example, Drouin & Driver, 2012). The use of symbols, emoji, acronmyns, and abbreviations create new senses of community allowing novel forms of shared, secret language.

This collective identity engenders feelings of belonging, a tribal recognition. As I’ve been locating potential geocache sites to hide the zines – or mini place writing books, I’m not sure what the correct label is yet, if any – I’ve been learning some of the language. Trying to unravel the acronyms: GZ, TFTC (ground zero – the physical location of the cache, and ‘Thanks For The Cache’). I’ve had a wry smile at the use of “Muggles” , the Harry Potter term for those who are not initiated in geocaching culture and so must be avoided. I’ve collected these new words, adding them to my internal vocabulary, and re-using them in the geocaching forum. I’m looking forward to expanding this word cache during this project and sharing this new knowledge.

Over and out, good buddy.

Bennett, James (2001). ‘NE1 4 TXT SPK‘, The Times Educational Supplement. 9th March 2001.
Ramsey, Richard David (1979). ‘The People Versus Smokey Bear: Metaphor, Argot, and CB Radio‘, Journal of Popular Culture. 13.2. 338-344


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