There’s a well-used idiom in English that states that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. If this is true, then what is the immense value of today’s word? In so many ways, today’s word has changed the way we think, the way we understand things, and the way we process information, all by allowing us to see, instead of just hearing or reading. So, let’s give credit where it’s due and explore the vast depths of the impact of the moving image by looking at the word video.
While the use of today’s word began less than a century ago, the roots of the term – as well as terms like vision and visual – extend all the way back to Latin, where the verb video, meaning ‘to see’, originated. Though, at first thought, we may find it difficult to equate the term with anything other than sites like DailyMotion or YouTube or actual, physical video cassettes (the magnetic tape filled black rectangular things before DVD and Blu-ray), the word video itself it quite versatile, potentially being used as a noun, verb, or adjective.
The first recorded use of our term comes in the form of an adjective in 1934, from a volume of the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers, where using the term simply to describe a visual aspect of an overall medium, is stated: “Video frequency (picture frequency)… The picture carrier should include the video signal, synchronizing impulses, etc.”
Crossing over into usage as a noun a year later, we can see the term used in the journal The Wireless World, which writes in 1935 that: “I had noticed that the Americans were beginning to take ‘audio’ away from its original use in conjunction with ‘frequency’ and to use it for this special purpose; and that they were toying with the idea of ‘video’ as its complement.”, taking the word to mean a signal carrying images to be displayed on a device, such as a television set.
Speaking of television, the advent of TV led to a virtual explosion of usage for our word. Not only did 1939 see the first actual television broadcast (April 30), which was U.S. President Roosevelt at the opening ceremony of the World’s Fair, but it also saw the first mention of the term defining it as a specific broadcasting medium: Broadcasting Magazine, writing in May, briefly mentions a “Second article on video is published by Fortune [Magazine].”
5 years later, in 1944, via 2 separate Variety articles, our word both began to be applied as a verb to define the concept of televising an event – “WOR aired a platter and DuMont’s W2XWV videoed the ceremonies via a Par newsreel clip.” (March 22) – and also started to be used to represent the apparatus/device/screen which was converting and displaying these moving images: “20,000 classroom videos… Postwar plans for equipping 20,000 schoolrooms with television apparatus are already under way.” (September 6).
Looking at a more modern interpretation of the term, such as simply being a recording of a moving image on magnetic tape (or later on in a digital format), the Sunday newspaper The Observer first noted that: “The days of the disc, in the pop world at least, are numbered. For soon will come the video.”, surprisingly, on January 14, 1968. Moreover, a quote from a little over 2 years later (September 17, 1970) via the periodical The Stage and Television Today would give us our first understanding of video as a timeless media, writing that: “Your audition will be recorded on video that can be played at any time.”
Finally, for those wondering, before PlayStation, Xbox, Sega, and Nintendo, the first appearance of the term “video game” comes from a September 25, 1973 article in the University of Houston (Texas) school newspaper, The Daily Cougar, which uses the term succinctly while mentioning the game that started the entire industry: “Video games such as ‘Pong’.”