Code 404

Today’s Rhymes With Orange, with a pun on page:

A pun of a type that juxtaposes two strikingly different contexts (here, court life in a monarchy, on the one hand, and the internet, on the other) in such a way that two different senses of an expression are both applicable.

The two senses of page, from NOAD2: historical senses and a computing sense:

[(1)] a boy in training for knighthood, ranking next below a squire in the personal service of a knight; a man or boy employed as the personal attendant of a person of rank

[(2)] a section of stored data, esp. that which can be displayed on a screen at one time

It’s sense (2) that’s relevant to Code 404: Page not found (an HTTP error code) — a message that has come to be played on in popular culture and slang. From Wikipedia:

During the May 2011 Greek protests, one of the most popular slogans was “Error 404: Democracy not found”.

In Tunisia political censorship led to 404 becoming so ubiquitous that Tunisian bloggers invented a character called Ammar they held responsible for its deployment.

In 2008, a study carried out by the telecommunications arm of the Post Office found that “404” had become a slang synonym for “clueless” [itself a slang usage; see here] in the United Kingdom. Slang lexicographer Jonathon Green said that “404” as a slang term had been driven by the “influence of technology” and young people, but at the time, such usage was relatively confined to London and other urban areas.


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