Monday, December 17, 2012

Chimping Champs No Chumps

Chimping, I am advised by a customer who is a noted photographer and linguistic gadabout, is a term that describes the activity of checking each image on the display screen of a digital camera immediately after taking the picture.

Among the first users of this word was Robert Deutsch, a USA Today staff photographer, who wrote of “chimping” in an email newsletter in 1999. There are two competing explanations of this word’s origin, neither of them entirely compelling.

One school of thought holds that chimping derives from the noises photographers make when appraising their photos—“ooh, ooh, ah”—which are regarded as similar to those made by an excited chimpanzee.  This strikes me as a bizarre and unpersuasive explanation, inasmuch as I often check my own digital pictures and have never uttered an “ooh” or an “ah” in so doing.  For that matter, I’ve never heard anyone else make such noises.

The second explanation is that the word is an acronym of “CHecking IMage Preview.”  This strikes me as a back-formation, devised in an attempt to explain the word after it came into being.  Why would you say “image preview” instead of just “image”?

One online commentator believes chimping means something else entirely—holding the camera over your head at crowded events and shooting blindly, hoping to come up with a usable photo.  The analogy is to the old saw that if you put a chimpanzee in a room with a typewriter, eventually it would write Hamlet and War and Peace. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has been trying to write Hamlet for many years now, somehow having failed to realize that it has already been written quite satisfactorily.  Here’s his latest effort, which you will agree still needs a little tweaking:

            To be, or not to be, or maybe not,
            I must take arms against a sea of troubles.
            Oh, what outrageous fortune I have got, 
            The fire burns and cauldron bubbles.

            To die, oh, yes, perhaps, and then to sleep!
            To sleep, or just count sheep, aye, there’s the rub!
            While deep asleep, I creep without a peep,
            Right down the street into the local pub.
            Our conscience then makes cowards of us all,
            We shuffle off this mortal coil—to bed,
            But soft! The fair Ophelia comes to call:
            I think I’ll just pretend that I am dead.

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