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I searched Google's "YouTube", it seems like "tube" is a nickname for "television". So, when did television get this nickname, and why?


I have once considered tube as TV cube, does it make sense?

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Thought 'telly' was the name of television... and 'tube' for the subway... –  JFW Apr 3 '11 at 8:13
@JFW: Looks like you can still buy the domain YouTelly.com. –  Callithumpian Apr 3 '11 at 13:39
"I have once considered tube as TV cube, should it be?" No. The "tube" part comes from the tubes inside of the TV. It is not a portmanteau of "TV cube", and there is no common situation in which the TV is referred to as a "cube". –  Kosmonaut Apr 3 '11 at 15:28
JFW, the tube is the nickname for the London Underground. Telly is an informal word for television dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/telly?q=telly –  Tristan r Jul 1 '14 at 18:47
Xiè Jìléi, referring to television as "tube" is not common in the UK. According to this link dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/tube_4 , it is MAINLY US. It seems to be a part of American English in particular. –  Tristan r Jul 1 '14 at 18:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

To answer the when part of your question, it looks like the nickname took hold in the early 1960s. The earliest use of it in print I could find is from a 1962 television trade publication:

For such of the faithful who do care, Mike Dann, CBS-TV's vice president of network programs, has some happy thoughts. 'I think the boys are about to have their turn on the tube,' Dann cheerfully predicts.

Television magazine, Volume 19, Issue 3

It appears the term was used widely by advertisements for televisions promoting the latest technology behind their "color picture tubes." The term's popularity increased greatly in the 70s, peaked in the 80s, and has been in decline since then. (Unless, of course, you count the use of YouTube.)

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OK, tube can also mean other things, but the graph is quite self-explanatory ngrams.googlelabs.com/… –  nico Apr 3 '11 at 5:48
@Nico: Nice. And using watch the x or turn on the x gives cleaner results. –  Callithumpian Apr 3 '11 at 13:43
@Cal: Remember it's case sensitive, try this. –  Hugo Nov 10 '11 at 6:40
@Hugo: Yes, better still. –  Callithumpian Dec 31 '11 at 3:02

The CRT or Cathode Ray Tube is the vacuum tube/electron gun combination that (before plasma and LCD televisions) was the basis of all televisions and computer monitors.

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As tube for CRT, do people still call LCD TV as tube now? –  Xiè Jìléi Nov 10 '11 at 4:33
@XieJilei, I would say 'the tube' is nearly dead as a term for TV, at least here in Australia. More widely used, and certainly more appropriate now, is 'the box'. Even if most TVs are flat rather than box-like. –  Snubian Nov 10 '11 at 4:46

From its invention in the nineteenth century at least until the mid 1950s, tube was used to mean telephone. This is confirmed in the OED’s 1959 citation, which is also the first documented recording of the use of tube to mean television.

1959 Esquire Nov. 70 Tube, can be television, but usually telephone. Example: Buzz me on the tube. Call me up.

In 1969, the UK’s ‘Daily Telegraph’ referred to television as the boob toob, an expression which these days has, I understand, a somewhat different meaning.

The first use in the UK of box to describe a television predates tube by a few years. It was earlier used to mean a radio, and before that a gramophone.

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