If you don’t know the meaning of the babbling brook of a word above, don’t feel bad. I deliberately chose an obscure word in order to make a point—here’s the definition:
the phenomenon of (apparently) speaking in an unknown language, especially in religious worship.
When you hear words or other sounds that you can’t understand, you focus upon what? The sound, of course. You try to interpret the sounds based upon your lifetime of experience, searching for familiar patterns, roots, or—sounds. You try to make sense out of nonsense.
Take our title: if the word was unfamiliar to you, you probably tried to find similarities to words you do know—gloss, for instance, as in, to gloss over meaning. Better yet: glossary, which of course is—-
an alphabetical list of terms or words found in or relating to a specific subject, text, or dialect, with explanations; a brief dictionary.
Ever tried to discuss your audio obsession with non-audio-geek normals? Did they squint at you and screw up their face as though you were speaking an unknown language?
I first started leafing through my brother’s Stereo Review mags when I was 12 or so, and about the only things I understood were the cartoons by Charles Rodrigues (yes, the same cartoons we reprint, half a century later). Sometimes, even those cartoons used technical lingo in jokes so inside, that they were beyond my level of understanding.
But I learned, and familiarity bred understanding, not contempt—that came later. I got to the point where I grasped the bigger concepts, and could work my way through a spec sheet. I eventually learned that IHF power ratings were optimistic, and IPP (instantaneous peak power) ratings were what an amplifier put out in the nanosecond before it erupted into a massive fireball. I learned that RMS ratings were mostly trustworthy, even if I didn’t know the meaning of “Root Mean Square”. That’s okay: I still don’t.
Just as little children do, I linked together related terms, inferred meanings of unfamiliar words or phrases (sometimes correctly), and sooner or later, I was speaking the language. I could go into a stereo store as a teenager, and mostly not look like a total idiot. Mostly.
And just when I had a tenuous grasp upon the proper, Julian Hirsch-approved audio language …The Absolute Sound came along. Suddenly, I was besieged with terms like golden ears, silky highs, flaccid bass, and most bewildering of all… butterscotchy midrange.
“Butterscotchy”? In my mind, butterscotch always went along with nuts—which seemed appropriate, in this case.
Over time, I came to understand the new meanings of familiar words. All except “butterscotchy”—and I’m still not sure what that meant.
As was often the case, J. Gordon Holt (“in whose ears we trust,” as John Atkinson used to write), founder of Stereophile, had been there years before, formalizing the language of listening. Gordon was not much of a marketer, so it fell to his successor JA to really spread the gospel according to Gordon. Eventually a whole book appeared, The Audio Glossary—out of print for many years. Fortunately, much of the Glossary is still available online on the Stereophile website, thanks to JA’s efforts.
I do see a few terms that could still stand to be defined. JGH’s humor was usually as dry as his beloved martinis—so you won’t find “butterscotchy” in the glossary.