Thursday, January 31, 2008

Citing -source(s)

Like it or not, to source is a verb that's been around a long time. The OED lists the verb, in its sense of "to obtain from a specified source," with a first cite of 1660.[1] In its direct, current usage, cites in the OED start at 1960.

From there we move along and develop to outsource, which per the OED and RHD emerged in the late 70s.[2]

Paul McFedries (aka reports the term intersource was coined probably in the late 90s, modeled on on outsourcing: "Intersource: To farm out work by creating a joint venture with an outside provider or manufacturer." (No OED reference.) Along a similar model, I guess, Webster's lists (without a date) to insource as "to keep within a corporation tasks and projects that were previously outsourced." To un-outsource, I guess.

More? You bet:

Downsourcing. Various meanings; most common is to pass work off to an entity that's smaller or less experienced:

  • "It's a new buzzword, but for a very old idea. Cutting out the middleman." (#)
  • "What these companies hope to do is engage in a constant process of what I call downsourcing, by sloughing off their older, my highly paid employees and replacing them with fresh-faced college grads eager to pay their dues -- at a much lower price." [#]
  • "Then there's the downsourcing of mainline customer service at many mid-size airports to some entities that are semi-incompetent. It is a cost saving that's likely one of the reasons that consumers want revenge." [#]
Upsourcing. Not sure I can make clear sense of the ways in which this term is being used. Have a look yourself using this search.

So, it's the -source hokey-pokey: in, out, all about. We keep finding new prepositions to whack onto the -source.

But that is not all. Steve Sampson wrote recently about crowdsourcing, where he quotes Wikipedia: "Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task, refine an algorithm or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science)." Examples of crowdsourcing that Sampson mentions are,

Where up to now we created directional (locational) locutions, crowdsourcing drops direction and going right to the source. (So to speak.)

More? Maybe. Another term built on this pattern is homesourcing (aka homeshoring), defined (Wikipedia again) as "The transfer of service industry employment from offices to home-based employees with appropriate telephone and Internet facilities". Here's an interesting note on how JetBlue uses homesourcing for its reservation system. I found one similar reference to housesourcing ("This term refers to a hot trend of hiring people who work from their home .for instance, independent contractors employs people to handle customer service calls from their home ,which saves time and money for both employers and employees.") Note that this definition is from a somewhat dubious source (haha), namely a Web site in Chinese (!).

In the world of computers, source is short for source code, which is the language in which programs are written, to then be compiled into object code. With the advent of community-supported software, we now have open-source (free, community supported) and closed-source (commerical) software.[3] Not surprisingly, we have verb forms, e.g. "Open sourcing of VMS".

So we've got -sources all over the place! Where else? What new terms can we come up with?

[1] Their example is: "Like a bankroute or shipe lost on the continent by the furie of sourcinge waves," which doesn't seem to me to have quite the same sense.

[2] The citations from the 1960s in the OED for to source actually anticipate the development of to outsource, check it out: "1960 Wall St. Jrnl. 15 Mar. 14/5 There is a growing tendency toward foreign ‘sourcing’, the purchase or production of finished goods or components abroad."

[3] These definitions for open- and closed-source are simplistic, I realize.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mini-Me ... please

Suppose that you are a programmer working with Web pages. Your job is to reduce the size of the Web page -- that is, of the HTML that defines the Web page -- to the absolute minimum. (Smaller Web pages are faster to download and thus display.) As part of this process, you get rid of all extraneous white space, extra line breaks (the browser doesn't care about those), etc.

What might you call this process? Well, here are some candidates:
  • Minimize. Possible; however, "minimizing a Web page" already means something else in the world of Windows and GUIs.
  • Compress. This term has a technical meaning (as in, compressing to a .zip file) that isn't exactly what you're doing here.
  • Condense. Ooh, nice … that's what you're doing, condensing the page to its essence, sort of.

All possible, but not what it's called. The word is … ta-da! … minify; the nounification is minification. This page provides a nice definition:
Minification is the practice of removing unnecessary characters from code to reduce its size thereby improving load times. When code is minified all comments are removed, as well as unneeded white space characters (space, newline, and tab). […] This improves response time performance because the size of the downloaded file is reduced.
My first reaction, which might also have been yours, was to say "Huh, strange-sounding word." Perhaps you (but not me) further thought "Those darn programmers are always making up wacky new terms!" Ah, but it turns out that minify has been around longer than, say, anyone currently writing about how English is being ruined. RHD's etymology says it appeared in the 1670s. The etymology further suggests that the term was modeled on magnify. Well, that makes sense, I guess.

But wait, there's more. Another term that's used for minification is crunching. (One tool that can do this for you is named the Crunchinator.) In at least one usage I know of, crunching is a little more, um, intimate than minification … it isn't just crowding everyone together on the bus, it's giving some folks a haircut:"Crunching scripts happens when scripts are built, and removes whitespace and condenses local variable names to further reduce the size of the script files."

The Google search "minification html whitespace" yields about 2,230 hits; the search "crunching html whitespace" yields 7,340. Based on this and a few other not-very-rigorous search tests, I'd posit that the more popular term is in fact crunch.


The Windows Live folks (more specifically, the lab portions thereof) are proto-releasing a tool that is described as "a search visualization site that brings a new user experience to researching -- "searching and storing results." Name: Tafiti. Per the site, the name "means 'do research' in Swahili."

Oh. I always find it a little lame when people have to explain where a brand(-ish) name comes from. For one thing, it means that the name itself isn't doing its fair share of denoting or connoting what it's supposed to represent.

So whence Tafiti? A kind-of homonym is Tahiti, a far-away exotic locale whose image would not seem (unless I'm missing something) to be suggestive of what's going on here. Another sound-alike is graffiti, which seems a little closer -- the search feature lets you save and amend search results for your research. So, evocative of scribble, perhaps.

Perhaps. Thots? Why would you turn to Swahili for branding? Not that it isn't a fine and useful language, but it's not widely known in the English-speaking world.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Etymologically, the term encyclopedia results from an imperfect understanding of classical languages. So it's come down to us as a single word that we older folks at least used to associate with a shelf-full of heavy books. An archaic but occasionally amusing feature of which was that they were arranged alphabetically and (at least in some editions) on whose spine were printed ranges (what are those called?) that indicated the letters incorporated into that volume: A-Com, Lit-Pat, Ped-Rel, like that.

Even tho there isn't a standalone word pedia in any obvious incarnation in English (unobvious ones, probably), it's been treated as combinatory form for a long time. As of 1985, the Britannica people had a Micropoedia, a Macropoedia, and a Propeodia. (Dig those funky spellings, which I will note do not pass the spelling checker I'm using.)

These days, -pedia is flung about with abandon. On the first page alone of a Google search, you can find,,,,,, and "Compendium of knowledge" is yer core meaning here. (On the Web, no one knows that you're alphabetized, so that particular flourish in the original definition does not obtain.)

Probably the best-known online encyclopedia is Wikipedia, which combines the old term -pedia with the relatively new term wiki. For the 3 people left who don't know this, a wiki is a Web site that anyone can edit or contribute to. And for the 5 people left who don't know this, wiki is from the Hawaiian term wikiwiki, which means "quick."

The particles that go on the front of -pedia can address different components of the compendium. A common one is what, i.e. subject matter: cinema-pedia, design-pedia, mobile-pedia, info-pedia, the latter covering (one presumes) everything that constitutes information. Another possibility is where, i.e. where the pedia is found: e-pedia, referencing a no-longer-so-productive prefix for, basically, "online." The Wikipedia folks used a prefix for how, namely the manner in which the pedia is compiled.

All of this you know already, right? So. Not long ago I ran across a reference to, a Web site that "has been set up to be the definitive online resource for all things Whisk(e)y." The "all things Whisk(e)y" part is pretty clear from the -pedia part of the name. What's interesting to me is that Whiskypedia is a wiki. I think the name therefore has two, two, two times the connotative value of [something]-pedia alone: I think they are, um, leveraging the similarity of the sounds of wiki and whisky to signal that it's both a pedia and a wiki. If that's true (speculate among yourselves), does it mean that as we progress, the term -pedia might start suggesting not just a compendium of knowledge, but specifically community-contributed knowledge?

Update 3/22/08: Nicholson Baker in The New York Review of Books: "Someone recently proposed a Wikimorgue—a bin of broken dreams where all rejects could still be read, as long as they weren't libelous or otherwise illegal. Like other middens, it would have much to tell us over time. We could call it the Deletopedia." (source)

Update 4/14/08: The toonopedia.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The way that "cookie" crumbles

Basic descriptions of the differences between American and British English will often feature a chart that lists words and their correspondents in the other dialect. You know, trunk=boot, panties=knickers, pants=trousers, like that. Among those it will often note what Americans call a cookie, the Brits call a biscuit. (Confusingly, and by no means uniquely, the British word has a different meaning yet in American English.)[1]

But it ain't that simple. It turns out that the word cookie has in fact come into British English, and even means something like what we Americans understand. But it hasn't replaced biscuit; instead, the two terms in BrEnglish now have a subtly different definition.

Lynne Murphy at separated by a common language explains:

In AmE, cookie refers to what BrE speakers would refer to as biscuits, but also to a range of baked goods that were not typically available in Britain until recently--what we can call an 'American-style cookie'--that is, one that is soft and (arguably) best eaten hot. Since in the UK these are almost always bought (at places like Ben's Cookies or Millie's Cookies), rather than home-baked, they also tend to be of a certain (largish) size. In BrE, biscuit retains its old meaning and applies to things like shortbread, rich tea biscuits, custard creams and other brittle things that can be dunked into one's tea, but cookie denotes only the bigger, softer American import. (In fact, twice this year I heard Englishpeople in shops debating the definition of cookie, and had noted this for further discussion on the blog...and here it is. For previous discussion of this and other baked good terminology, click here.)

The semantic range covered by a word is rarely fixed for all time, and the language adapts to address new circumstances, to accommodate new terms, and so on. In HistLing101, for example, they'll tell you that the English word deer, which refers to a particular type of ruminant, is etymologically related to the German word Tier, which simply means "animal." As the West Germanic languages split apart, what was once the same word claimed different semantic territory in the descendant languages. In the case of biscuit/cookie, in British English, a new thing was introduced that came with an existing name. One way to accommodate this would have been to also refer to American-style cookies as biscuits. But clearly British speakers have felt that it's useful to distinguish this new type of baked good from another type, enough so that British English now has two words for these different things. In the process, the definition of biscuit in BrEng has become a tiny bit narrower, inasmuch as it now does not cover all the territory that is covered by what Americans call a cookie. In those lists of American vs British terms, the line for cookie=biscuit should now at the least have an asterisk and a note that makes this point. (Not that any such note will likely be added.)

American speakers continue to use cookie to cover the whole range of baked goods here, so they don't yet feel that the difference requires a split in terminology. They sure as heck would get confused if BrEng speaker started talking about these subtle distinctions between biscuits and cookies.

I will note for the record that I'm aware that within the world of retailing (and baking), there are all sorts of different names for styles of cookies, even in (especially in?) AmEng -- ya got yer snickerdoodles and fig newtons and vanilla wafers and ginger snaps and animal crackers, all of which refer to specific recipes or styles of cookies. I think, however, that Americans would still consider all of these to be cookies. Yes?

[1] I worked in the UK a while back, and ran afoul of such a difference on my first day (!). My employer issued a card that could be used to pay for fuel for the company car. I was told to go to someone and get such a card; when I did, I asked for a "gas card." I got puzzled looks until one of us (probably not me) sorted out that what I wanted was a petrol card.

Sit on this, why doncha

Seth points me to a term that was new to me, altho it's a variant on a term that I did know. He finds typosquatting, which is a specific instance of cybersquatting. Should these both be new to you, the terms refer to the practice of leasing a domain name ( that is either an actual brand name or similar to a brand name, in the hopes that the brand-name owner will then want to pay you to hand it over to them. For example, had you been clever and forward-looking in, say, 1995, you might have bought the rights to the domain name, and then have negotiated with the Oxford University Press for the rights to that domain name. (These days, you can be successfully sued for cybersquatting, so you might have a harder go of it today.) Typosquatting refers specifically to registering a misspelling of a trademarked name, as opposed to just a name or word that a company might find useful. If you managed to register, dunno, and, you'd be typosquatting.

Squatting and squatters refer to the practice and practitioners of occupying something that doesn't belong to you (when of course it does not refer to sitting on your haunches). I did some small amount of poking to see if I could come up with more words that whack a prefixtual word onto -squat/-squatting, but came up dry. (I sorely, sorely miss not having wildcard searches in word stems.) Are there in fact other examples of such words?