The Audio Cyclopedia

vacuum tube schematicI used to work at the Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography, in a basement office within sight of where Alvin was built. The basement held another, less-heralded marvel: the free table. Whenever a lab was overhauled or a grad student moved on, they’d cull their detritus and dump it on the free table. Part of the pinko ethos that infects academia, no doubt, but a wonderful thing.

Usual fare ran toward outdated WordPerfect manuals, but you would sometimes find a collection of neatly piled Pyrex labware with a note saying “slightly contaminated.” Or a broken oscilloscope. Or five cartons of Hollerith cards. Pretty great to a technostalgic pack rat.

I especially loved finding specialized reference books. They’re usually de facto dictionaries, but the words are in situ, being put to good use as they’re being defined. One of my favorite free table gimmes was just such a book: The Audio Cyclopedia*, by Howard M. Tremaine. Probably bought in the seventies by someone working on sonar or recording whale songs, it’s a 1,700 page compendium of recording technology, in excruciating detail and with a weird Jeopardy! pose-everything-as-a-question prose style.

It is an absolutely tremendous source of of technicalese and audio industry terms of art, so yesterday I finally started a list I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time: Audio Argot, inspired by the Audio Cyclopedia. Please contribute, it’s an open list. Anything audio related fits the bill, I think—words needn’t come specifically from the Cyclopedia, but for those that do I’ll add a citation. Here’s the list.

* It seems to still be in demand. My scavenged copy is the 2nd edition, first published in 1969; the first edition was published in 1959 and it is not cheap.