Viewfinder: Early Distant Vision

Since all video creators owe a debt of gratitude to lots of inventors that created the tools of our trade, let’s take a look at some of the words, which describe those inventions.

Tele– is a Greek prefix meaning “distant”. Common words using this prefix are telegraph, telephone and telecommunication. However, some of the more obscure uses of the prefix tele include teletype and teleflora. Sometimes, I like to pick apart words in an effort to seek deeper meaning so please allow me to examine this portion of a word with you.

Telegraph is the long-distance transmission of messages. Telegraph comes from the Greek words tele (far) and graphein (write). Telecommunication is the transmission of messages, over distances, for the purpose of communication. The word telephone is from the Greek: tele, (far) and phene (voice). Teletype was a electromechanical typewriter that was used up until the 1960s to communicate typed messages from a distance. Teleflora is the name of a flower delivery company, which sends flowers from a distance. Occasionally tele is a syllable in the middle of a word as in pantelegraph This is a device developed by Giovanni Caselli in 1865. The pantelegraph was the first “fax” machine, the sending of facsimiles from a distance. In the late 1800s the word telephonoscope was coined to describe what we now know as a videophone.

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Of all the words that incorporate the syllable tele, my favorite is television. In order to make a point, I am going to spell it with a hyphen for a portion of this article.

The word tele-vision is derived from mixed Latin and Greek roots, meaning “far sight”: Greek tele, far, and Latin visio, sight (from video, vis- to see, or to view in the first person). In order to better understand the word tele-vision, we need to look into its origins and similar devices, which preceded it.

Before distance vision there was distance hearing as in the telephone but there was also a device for listening to prerecorded audio, the phonograph. Some of these were called Victrolas. In 1917 Iwan Serrurier came up with the idea for a home movie projector to be sold to the general public. The name was derived from the name “Victrola” since Serrurier thought his invention would do for home movie viewing what the Victrola did for home music listening (The Moviola even came in a beautiful wooden cabinet similar to the Victrola’s).

The Moviola did not catch on. However several other inventors (including Philo T. Farnsworth) began working on tele-vision in the 1920s. Early tele-vision was like the telephonoscope in that all of the images and sounds were “live”, broadcast in real time. Until the late 1950s, the vast majority of tele-vision programs were live so this really helps understand the origins of the word meaning distant vision.

When prerecorded television was first broadcasted, the recording medium was film. The TV shows Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy were shot and edited on film, then broadcast with a machine called a telecine, which transfers motion picture film into video form.

This is when the word tele-vision really becomes something different. The broadcast images were no longer simply “distant vision”, because the TV shows were prerecorded. The “vision” which was delivered to the viewer wasn’t only “distant” but it was also “historic” or belonging to the past.

It seems to me that back in the 1950s society needed a new word to describe historic, distant vision. The word television is used to refer to the device, the programming, the industry and the transmission.
Nonetheless, we owe a debt of gratitude to the inventors and the writers who coined the words to describe them.

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.