Thinking Ahead:
I was doing some edits to an article on computers and the Fourth Amendment over the weekend, and spent some time reworking a discussion of the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Arizona v. Hicks. In that case, a police officer picked up a stolen Bang & Olufsen turntable and copied down the serial number to confirm it was stolen. The Court held that picking up the turntable was a Fourth Amendment search, but writing down the number was not a Fourth Amendment seizure.

  Here's the question: When describing the facts of the case, should I describe the turntable as, well, a turntable, or should I just describe it more generically as audio equipment? If anyone is reading my article in 20 years, will they know what a turntable is? Will they wonder what a turning table looks like and why someone would want one? I like to think that people will still be playing vinyl LPs on machines like my Harman/Kardon T-65C for a long time, but it doesn't seem too likely.
Donald (www):
Could you call it a "record player," or would that yield the same ambiguity? If you describe it as a "turntable" and don't also mention that it is audio equipment, it's possible a reader might think you are referring to a potter's wheel (not that the distinction is likely to be important for your substantive analysis of Hicks).
7.18.2005 12:21pm
G_G (mail):
While law professors still inflict antiquated cases like Pierce v. Post and Hadley v. Baxendale on students, you're wondering if the twentysomethings of 2025 will grasp the strange and mysterious artifact known as a "turntable?" MTV hasn't dumbed us down that much. Besides, whether the student knows his turntables from his 8-tracks is irrelevant to the case. In Hicks, the item could have been a state-of-the-art, laser-guided, stem-celuar, zero-calorie, cold-fusion-powered McGuffin, the point is that if a cop moves it, it's a search.
7.18.2005 12:29pm
Richard Bellamy (mail):
I see no real advantage to use the greater specificity of "turntable". The case did not turn on whether it was a record player or an 8-track casette player that was stolen. "Audio equipment" tells you everything you need, and I would recommend it even over "CD Player", "iPod", or "Bose Radio."
7.18.2005 12:34pm
Specifics help a case come to life. You can form a picture in your head of someone picking up a turntable, but the concept of picking up audio equipment is more ambiguous. I would go with the specific description; I'm sure researchers of tomorrow will be able to look up "turntable" on if they're unfamiliar with the concept.
7.18.2005 12:42pm
alkali (mail):
Note to future readers: before the great Energy Crunch of 2008, many music reproduction devices, such as "turntables," could operate without hand-cranking.
7.18.2005 12:46pm
Jeff Leyser (mail):
Turn the problem on its head, Orin. What would you think if you read an article that referenced a Victrola, or a buggy whip, or even a typewritter? Would those references help or harm the article?
7.18.2005 12:53pm
Richard Bellamy (mail):
Those, of course, being the ones you have heard of. Instead of "Victrola," which we laugh to imagine people don't understand, you could end up the future equivalent of a phrase that has become specific beyond recognition -- "vertical cut pantograph" -- or general beyond recognition -- "a cylinder".
7.18.2005 1:01pm
Jeffrey Collins (mail) (www):
I think the word "turntable" is likely to be confusing even now. When I was a child my family used a "record player" but I wasn't certain what you meant by turntable as I've never heard them called that. I think if you use the word turn table you'd be advised to add a brief parenthetical explanation unless it's obvious from the context that it is audio equipment.
7.18.2005 1:19pm
The fact that the serial number was recorded physically on the outside of the case, and the device had to be physically moved to see it, was crucial to the case.

Future law students, used to thinking of "audio equipment" as being (for example) purely software programs, might not understand the case if purely abstract terminology were used. It would be necessary to alert future law students about the essential physical properties of the device — that its serial number is physically recorded on the outside (rather than electronically) and it's a physical device that has to be physically moved for this to happen.

Calling the thing a "turntable" provides this information. Folks can always look the thing up to find out what kind of antique such a thing was.

But describing the thing in terms so abstract as to render it indistinguishable from a contemporary device would completely obscure the case once the physical properties of devices change. It was the thing's physical properties — what it was, not what it was used for — that really mattered to the case.
7.18.2005 1:24pm
Timothy Sandefur (mail) (www):
For what it's worth, when I read your post, I didn't click on your link, and I had no idea what you meant by a "turntable." It was only in your second paragraph that I realized what you were talking about. I'm 29.
7.18.2005 1:25pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I was a DJ for a long time before I went to law school. I stopped playing vinyl records and went all CD soon after some kid, about 9-10 years old, came up to me at a wedding, saw the records, and said, "what are those?" I told him what they were and some background and he said, "Wow, that is some old stuff. What are you, about 40?" I was 24 years old. I went all CD within the next few weeks.

My advice, considering my long experience as a DJ, is to call it a "vinyl record player." It might soung quaint today, but if you are indeed worried about down the road that is the way to go.
7.18.2005 1:27pm
William Baude (mail) (www):
Isn't this the perfect place for a footnote?

"#: Note to those who may be reading this in the distant future: A turntable is an etc. etc. etc."

At any rate, I think that a turntable/record player (I prefer the latter term) is now such an icon of obsolescence that nobody will actually forget what they are. C.f. the buggy whip.
7.18.2005 1:27pm
I think the term itself is simply dated and its use dates the author as much as it sets the scene. To me in my early 30s, it already strikes me as lingo used only by the record-player repairman and the aging hipster.

"Record player," or "vinyl record player" will probably mean something for years to come. "Turntable" will be as meaningless as "cylinder" (if indeed that day has not already come.)
7.18.2005 1:35pm
Keith Hilzendeger (mail):
Go ahead and say "turntable," and then trust your future reader to know what it is. Law students and lawyers coming up nowadays have to pretend to know what a "pen register" is even though that may or may not be the way the phone company keeps track of what numbers I dial from my land line - and it's probably not how it keeps track of what numbers I dial from my cell phone.
7.18.2005 1:39pm
Craig Oren (mail):
I'd go with "turntable." It's not the same as a "record player." A "record player" used to mean the one-piece machine that had a turntable on top and an amp and speakers inside.
And "turntable" is a lot less ambiguous than "audio equipment", which might imply something much bulkier and heavier.

Many students will recognize the term. The others will learn to look up what's unfamiliar, and that's in itself a valuable lesson.
7.18.2005 1:54pm
Bill Woody (mail) (www):
Have people forgotten what a horse buggy is? Is it difficult for those who aren't buffs of the Civil War to look up what hardtack is, or for those who aren't history buffs to look up what a cotton gin is?

I would call it what it is, safe in the knowledge that 20 years from now, if people don't know what a "turntable" is, they will be able to look it up on something the equivalent of Google or research what it is at something the equivalent of a Library.
7.18.2005 2:10pm
Keep turntable. Turntables are still in use by DJ's and audiophiles. There has been a resurgance in turntable use as vinyl records are again becoming recognized for their superior analog reproduction of music. Vinyl records are being produced in larger numbers than just a few years ago. It is a specialty area; records cost $25 to $40, but can offer wonderful sound over that of a regular CD (and vastly better sound than mp3), Coldplay's X&Y on 180mg vinyl is such a sonic stunner.

I think the word will be good for the next 20 years. But I wouldn't go much past that date.
7.18.2005 2:14pm
NR (mail):
Turntables are commonly used in popular music, and they're still called turntables. Although not many people listen to vinyl records anymore, hip-hop artists and other DJ's use turntables to "scratch," so most younger readers will be familiar with the term (although they might assume that the defendant used the device to make music rather than to listen to it).

Where It's At

There's a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turned low
The jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow
Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
Two turntables and a microphone
Bottles and cans and just clap your hands
And just clap your hands
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Take me home with my elevator bones!
That was a good drum break...

Pick yourself up off the side of the road
With your elevator bones and your whipflash tones
Members Only, hypnotizers
Move through the room like ambulance drivers
Shine your shoes with your microphone blues
Hirsutes with the parachute fruits
Passin' the dutchie from coast to coast
Check the man Gary Wilson rocks the most
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
What about those who swing both ways? AC/DCs?
Let's make it out, baby

Two turntables and a microphone
Two turntables and a microphone
Two turntables and a microphone
Two turntables and a microphone
Two turntables and a microphone
Two turntables and a microphone
We're all part of the total scene

Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Oh dear me! Make Out City is a two-horse town.
That's beautiful, Dad.

Got my microphone. . .
There's a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turned low
The jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow
Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
Two turntables and a microphone
Bottles and cans and just clap your hands
And just clap your hands
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone
Where it's at, I got two turntables and a microphone

I got plastic on my mind!
Makin' out, baby . . . let's make it . . . let's make out, baby.
Telephone, plastic, baby!
Oh it's all goooooood . . . ah yeah, let's burn it good.

7.18.2005 2:19pm
Noah Snyder (mail):
I'm 25 and I definitely know what a turntable is from Beck's line: "Two turntables and a microphone." And there's definitely been a large vinyl resurgence in the last decade.

Still, I think that "vinyl record player" is much clearer and will outlive "turntable" by a long time.
7.18.2005 2:22pm
Noah Snyder (mail):
Rats, I was beaten to the Beck reference by a second.
7.18.2005 2:22pm
The original "turntables" were railroad equipment used to move and reverse locomotives. If you didn't know that, "audio equipment" is the right choice.
7.18.2005 2:34pm
Sasha Slutsker (mail) (www):
I doubt that much of the younger generation knows what a turntable is, and in the future, the quantity of people who know about turntables will undoubtebly go down.

I think that you should simply describe what a turntable is at the beginning of the article. That way, you educate the reader in what a turntable is, and you also don't have to deal with describing an ambiguous "audio device".
7.18.2005 2:41pm
ed in texas (mail):
A Bang &Olufsen? The phrase "extremely expensive offering to the vinyl gods" comes to mind. Considering that in many ways, B&O's were the precursor to cd's (linear tracking, variable rpm, etc.), one might expect them to be better known. But then, who remembers what Henry Ford worked on before the Model T? (Of course, then, I remember when a MacIntosh was an amplifier, not a computer.) Sounds like a job for FootNoteMan.
7.18.2005 2:51pm
Simon Spero (mail):
Oddly enough, this came up in conversation a few days ago. Someone used the phrase "Record Player", and I observed how long it's been since I've heard someone say that. Nowadays everyone calls them turntables or decks (or 1200s, but that doesn't apply here).

There are CD turntables and MP3 turntables, but pull some white labels out of your green bag and you too could be the man like Sasha.
7.18.2005 3:21pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I second Aultimer -- there are lots of turntables, of which phonographs are one, the railroad equipment another.

I prefer phonograph (which I suppose is short for phonograph player) as generic for both turntables (which as Craig Oren points out is a component, with line-level outputs that needs to be connected to an amplifier and speakers) and a record player (which is all in one.)

For clarity, as opposed to elegance, you might footnote that a B&O turntable weighed about xxx pounds and was connected to the rest of the hi-fi ^h^h^h stereo ^h^h^h audio system.

I'm a fan of old technologies (I own an acoustic modem and an electro-mechanical adding machine) but for the best references, see what the authors of The Simpsons have Monty Burns say.
7.18.2005 3:38pm
erp (mail):
No problema. Twenty years hence or this very moment almost any information is at your disposal with just a click of a mouse.

The mind boggles about how this process will become even more useful and efficient. I'm not smart enough to imagine or speculate about what form it will take, but if I'm still around, I know I'll want to use it.
7.18.2005 3:54pm
Adam (mail) (www):
Anyone here throw a lit squib into a crowd lately?
7.18.2005 4:03pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
" If anyone is reading my article in 20 years, will they know what a turntable is?"

Twenty years, yes. The real interesting question is the first premise, what are the odds of anybody reading a twenty year old article, a fifty year old article?

Why worry?
7.18.2005 4:54pm
W.E. Howard (mail):
I don't suppose you'd want to call it a B&O turntable.

I'm surprised you asked. I thought law professors liked footnotes.
7.18.2005 5:18pm
James Ellis (mail):
I hope it's a great article and that advance debate about reader profiles twenty years hence doesn't jinx things. Knock on wood--preferably teak or rosewood. Call it a "turntable" and don't bother with a footnote. It's a safe bet that ebay or something like it will still be around in twenty years, so that inquiring minds can type in "bang olufsen turntable" and see where the serial number is on the back of the models that were popular in the mid-80s. That's what I just did.
7.18.2005 5:50pm
Fern R (mail):
Why don't you just add a witty footnote explaining what a turntable is? I bet there are people today who wouldn't know what you were talking about if you told them, "The police picked up a turntable."
7.18.2005 6:16pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail):
Anybody know how many buggywhips were sold in 2004 versus 1904? I'm guessing lots.
7.19.2005 12:35am
Larry Faria (mail):
Turntables and vinyl are coming back? Anybody know where I can get a replacement stylus?
7.19.2005 1:20am
Stephen Lindholm (www):
"Turntable" is rather ambiguous -- as someone pointed out above, they are used in the railroad industry. They are also used as part of dramatic theatre productions for rapidly changing sets, and they are used in microwave ovens to promote even heating.

In my view, it's always better to be more precise on the first usage -- "vinyl record turntable" or "hi-fi turntable." I really dislike "audio equipment," because it's the sort of grey verbiage that legal writing is stuffed with. The phrase "audio equipment" is so ponderous yet says so little, it would be better still to say "gadget," "widget," "device," or even "thing." But best yet is "turntable," because that is what it is.
7.19.2005 3:23am
Former Kerr Student:
Wow. Nobody even paused to think how pompous it is to spend your time wondering what people will think of your article in 20 years.
7.19.2005 9:37am
Terry Heinrichs:

No offense, but will anyone likely be reading your article 20 years from now?
7.19.2005 12:46pm