Recently I wrote about the way bare noun phrases can be deployed in the service of telling jokes. Though the syntax I considered may have been interesting, the material was completely unremarkable, seeing as how it came down to a juxtaposition of the phrases “Kim Kardashian” and “sex tape”. This seemed like such natural hack comedy fodder, it didn’t occur to me that it contains a striking anachronism. The term of art for the video of her and singer Ray J. having sex that contributed to Kardashian’s infamy is “Kim Kardashian’s sex tape”. As of the time of this writing, the relevant subsection of her Wikipedia entry is titled Sex Tape. The Google search “kim kardashian” “sex tape” gets about 31,500,000 hits, while “kim kardashian” “sex video” clocks in an order of magnitude smaller at 3,210,000.
The anachronism? Kim Kardashian’s sex tape became public in 2007, long after the sunset of VHS technology. There was no samizdat magnetic tape passed from hand-to-hand, growing gradually fainter with each redubbing. In fact, it is extremely unlikely an actual sex tape ever existed. Kardashian presumably recorded the original with a digital camera, and the world subsequently watched it on mpeg clips downloaded from the internet. And yet, we seem to agree that it’s a tape, not a video.
My intuition is that tape is hanging on as part of the bigram sex tape which in turn persists even as other videotape-related expressions (not to mention actual videotapes) fall into disuse. Google N-gram shows an interesting competition between “sex tape” and “sex video”.
I’m not going to venture reading the cultural tea leaves of this graph, though I will point out a qualitative contrast to “sports tape” and “sports video”, which is the best control condition I could come up with off the top of my head.
Yeah, I know, two graphs does not a study make. To be thorough you’d have to know the relative prior probabilities of “tape” and “video”, and not of the tokens but of the relevant word senses. (Which itself must a conflating factor–I’m betting adhesive strips have more uses in the locker room than the bedroom, but then on second thought, who knows?) Getting under word-sense-disambiguation at web scale seems like what needs to happen to move this kind of speculation of the idle category.
(By the way, you should click through on the video tape image above. Usually I’ll give a link through to an image’s source site regardless of its relevance just because it seems like the decent thing to do, but by sheer serendipity the blog post from which this image comes is relevant to the discussion here.)