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I found a phrase, ‘hit rewind’ in the headline of the article of May 29 New York Times reporting that VHS cassettes that seem to be dead long ago are still surviving and widely used among immigrant communities in New York City.

The article reads:

“For movies, some immigrants still choosing to hit rewind. In this age of streaming movies online and Blu-ray Discs, immigrants' nostalgia and frugality, among other factors, combine to make sure that the bulky VHS cassette endures.”

I assume ‘hit rewind’ means ‘to go back to an old thing and item (in nostalgia way),’ but am not sure of.

I checked Oxford, Cambridge, and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries for confirmation. None of them registers ‘hit rewind’ as an idiom.

Google Ngram shows that the phrase came up around 1980, and its usage is rapidly growing. So it seems to be a relatively new expression.

What is the exact meaning of ‘hit rewind’? Is the words well-received as an idiom now in both U.S. and U.K.?

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4 Answers 4

It's a brilliant pun. Hit rewind is reminiscent of cassettes (video or music); it can also be used euphemistically to mean "go back in time."

It's not a commonly-used idiom, but it's well-understood in most contexts.

I looked through some Google Book results. The modest numbers indicate the phrase is not all that commonly used. More often than not, it refers to the physical act of hitting a REWIND button on a tape device:

"He'd brought the tape in, so he felt personally responsible for it. McGrath hit rewind again and tried once more." (L. Child)

"Then he remembered that he'd forgotten to rewind the tape, so he hit rewind and the tape flew backward on the reels." (R. Birch)

But some metaphoric uses of the phrase are also sprinkled in the results:

"We thought, if someone somewhere could just hit rewind then maybe we could start over. But we couldn't. We can't." (J. Stowe, writing about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion)

"Wish I could go back, press pause, freeze time, then hit rewind, and right before he grabbed that knife, hit delete. Then I wouldn't have been afraid to go to sleep. (A. Russell)

Since the NY Times writer you cited is talking about using an old technology – one that is becoming antiquated, but happens to have a rewind button – it's a very apt usage of the phrase.

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In this case "hit rewind" is not an idiom, but the action of using the rewind button is used as a synedoche for "using a VCR". The most annoying part of VHS tapes, or at least the one that is most noticeable when you switch to DVD, is that you no longer need to "hit rewind" when you are done.

On the other hand, "hit rewind" is a current idiom, but getting less common, for starting over. Compare "reboot".

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The phrase stems from the meaning of the word "hit" as in "to hit a button." Another way to phrase it would be "to press the rewind button." From my experience "to hit rewind" is widely understood as such in the US, I am uncertain as to its status in the UK. Substituting the phrase "to press the rewind button" in that article would relay the same analogical meaning, but I do not believe either to be a widespread idiom for nostalgia or retrogression.

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The phrase "hit rewind" is still very much in use in the post-VHS age; in fact, the button I press to go back to a previous scene, or even to the beginning, of a DVD or DVR recording is labeled "REW". So, it's not specific to VCRs.

The headline in question, however, is using the phrase as a punning synonym of "turn back the clock" (which, BTW, also uses an antique term, "turn", in an age when so many clocks are digital and re-setting them involves no turning motion). It helps, of course, that VHS rewinding actually does involve the winding of tape back from a take-up spool.

So the answer, I believe, is no. "Hit rewind" is not an established idiom for employing an outmoded practice, though this particular usage does have that connotation because of the context.

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On "rewinding" DVDs: funny how words sometimes stick like that, even after they're no longer apt. Two other examples I thought of: floppy disks (which kept the monikor floppy, even after they no longer flopped, and glove compartments (which are used to store a host of sundry items, but rarely gloves). I don't know if proof-of-insurance compartment will ever catch on. –  J.R. May 29 '12 at 21:48
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or extra napkins and straws compartment –  Jim May 29 '12 at 21:56
    
@J.R.: Related. –  Callithumpian May 30 '12 at 3:51

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