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Military Camera

Photo | expertinfantry

Well, the time has come for me to post something.  In an effort to establish a topic I might be able to write more than two blog posts about (and in a similar but not entirely identical effort to keep that topic informative and entertaining), I decided to attempt to point out some interesting relationships between various film and entertainment concepts.  However, running the Six Degrees of Separation script on Wikipedia didn’t seem like much of a challenge (especially since I didn’t author it!), so I will go one tenuous step further and confine my attention to etymology!

Don’t everybody click the “back” button at once, now.

Everybody enjoys a good action movie, right?  With explosions, fast cars, guns, martial arts, and more explosions, even if you don’t care for the genre itself, you can still appreciate the sheer production value involved in crashing a car into a helicopter into a submarine into a building (all of which somehow contain gasoline in all the places you would expect to find air).  Maybe it’s one rogue agent against an entire army, or one military unit against another.  Indeed, such is mankind’s enthusiasm for martial prowess that we frequently employ words and expressions rooted in military matters.  The vocabulary of filmmaking is no exception.  More after the break.

Some of these words are obvious and retain their military meanings in parallel usage today: words like shot and shoot come to mind.  These words came to us through Old English sceotan “to shoot” from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *skeud– “to shoot, project, or throw”.  [A quick note about PIE: these words are reconstructed, as no writing existed at the time of their hypothetical utterance.  The asterisk is there to remind us of this limitation.]  Throwing remains a popular battle technique since you don’t need to get close enough to exchange blows, but still have a chance of landing a hit.  Other throwing words include cast (Old Norse kasta “to throw”; meaning “group of actors” attested 17th century), projector (Latin pro– “forward” and jactus “thrown”), and shutter (Proto-Germanic *skut– “project”; similar to shoot).

Tossing “throwing” words aside for a moment, we should also consider a couple of less obviously aggressive words.  Crew comes from a Latin word meaning “grow”, but by the time it entered Middle French as crue, its meaning had shifted to “military reinforcement” and shortly thereafter “group of soldiers”.  It finally began to describe  a “group of people working together” in the 1560s.  The early etymology of screen is less certain, but it possibly made its way from Old High German skirm “protection” (think skirmish).

Another word, blockbuster, was recently coined in the twentieth century.  It originally referred to the Royal Air Force’s High Capacity bombs during World War II, which were capable of taking out a city block.  By the 1950s, the term was used as we hear it today.  I guess the lesson here is that a movie (or album, yes) can bomb in a good way or a bad way.  But wait… if a poor film is considered a dud, how can it bomb at all?  Perhaps its being a dud is less a result of bad manufacture and more a result of bad deployment?  Might it still explode later as a cult classic?  Keeping in line with our military theme, maybe it will actually be a Colt classic?  If it was shot on 10mm film, I suppose that would make it a .38 caliber.  Right?

Anyhow, that about wraps it up for this episode.  Remember, if you didn’t like a movie, don’t get all up in arms about it, but don’t feel too bad about throwing something at the screen, either: when your distant ancestor was utilizing the distant ancestors of these filmmaking words, he was probably talking about flinging something at that screen’s distant ancestor, too.  Makes perfect sense.