Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Precious, technology style

Here's a term that you'll occasionally now see in reference to the newer generation of computer form factors: fondleslab. (Or a variant thereupon.) An article in The Register manages to slip the term in more than once:

Although Microsoft has been going on about Tiles since Windows Phone 7 became available two years ago, the launch of Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Surface fondleslabs have spurred the Surfcast to take legal action.

And a little later:

Microsoft's Live Tiles sit on a phone (or nowadays a fondletop or desktop) start screen and update with real time information from websites, twitter, photos, email etc.

The Techopedia site has a definition for fondleslab that goes like this:

Fondleslab, often hyphenated as fondle-slab, is a highly idiomatic slang term for a device that holds a powerful attraction for a user or set of users. Here, the word "slab" refers to devices that are often wide and rectangular in form, such as tablet computers.

"Highly idiomatic": ya think? Subsequent discussion on that page notes that many people think that the term is "extremely informal and not appropriate for business use" and that it is used in journalism. Indeed, that's where our examples come from, and indeed, The Register seems to be the most avid user of this term. Urban Dictionary, of course, has a definition (essentially the same as this), which somewhat unexpectedly also includes an entry for the term tablet-widow (echoes of, for example, golf widow.)

The, um, informal nature of the term pertains, of course, to fondle. This is technically a neutral term ("touch or stroke tenderly"), but it's used so often in sexual contexts that it seems to lends a certain impropriety to the term's use elsewhere. Like here: it suggests an unseemly attachment to the device. To my mind, anyway.

I can't imagine any context in which fondleslab would be considered a neutral term, let alone a positive one. For example, I would never consider my own devices to be fondleslabs. No, that's something that other people have. :-)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Doxic fallout

A recent brouhaha about the outing of the notorious troll Violentacrez brought to prominence a term that's been around for a while, but that really got a workout in the last week: doxxing.

Doxxing, sometimes doxing, infinitive to dox, often used passively (to be doxxed), is to publicly identify someone who has an online persona that keeps them otherwise anonymous. In this case, the user "Violentacrez" was doxxed by a reporter for (link here, but is currently unavailable due, I believe, to wrangling between Reddit and Gawker). The incident has set off a huge debate on the Internet that involves overlapping discussions about privacy, free speech, ethical behavior, journalism, and other topics.

But we're not about ethics here, we're about words. Dox definitely has the sense of outing someone. The source is not entirely clear. It's possible that dox comes from docs, i.e., documents, as in, being documented.

If Urban Dictionary is to be believed (ahem), it also refers to intercourse, perhaps not of a variety preferred by one of the participants, with typical metaphoric overtones. (See also: screwed.)

There's this slightly odd sense (from 1998), in reference to a game that's for sale on eBay:

Fully boxxed. Fully doxxed. Just not shrinkwrapped. [#]

This could mean (I cannot verify) that the game is fully documented, as in, it comes with all the bits that accompanied the new product.

Another sense of doxxed appears in discussion about gaming (a world I know nothing about) and seems to be a specialized and unique shortening of "paradoxed," whatever that might mean:

Yes, they were paradox- magnets, but, between maintianing 'secret identities,' not wanting to 'endanger innocents,' and the convenient fact that most of thier targets were horizon realms, they didn't actually get doxxed that badly. [#]

A thread on the site reviews these senses and Dave Wilton in that thread writes "I would suggest the first meaning above blended with the 'documents' sense to give the specific meaning of private information being revealed."

Since I have no actual, you know, facts, I'll echo Wilton's belief that doxxing in the "outing" sense seems like it could plausibly derive from documents. Perhaps someone can look into this a bit further. And then, haha, dox it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The new ... laptoplet?

Something amusing from an article in Buzzfeed about the new (so new it doesn't exist yet) Microsoft Surface, a.k.a. the new Microsoft tablet. It will come in two versions/sizes, of which the article says:
The bigger one will have air vents, because again, it's pretty much a laptop. A laptablet. Laptoplet. Tabtlop.
They're just funnin', but it does point out that we might end up needing a vocabulary item to cover devices that span computing-device categories that as of today are still relatively clear: phone > tablet > notebook > [desktop] computer. (Roughly.)

We already had the case of the netbook*, a portmanteau word (Internet+notebook) that was needed to describe a new class of computer. That term emerged with force when Asus released its Eee line.**  There was nervousness about using the word netbook generically, because Psion claimed a trademark. To get around this, people used terms like subnotebook or (from my work) small notebook PC (could that be more awkward? Sheesh). Or anyway they did till Psion was, um, persuaded to give up its trademark claims. It's not at all obvious (to me, anyway) why netbook should have become the accepted term, since it doesn't explicitly capture the defining characteristic of these devices, namely a small form factor. (And all laptop-class computers have had built-in network access, so that's not a distinguishing feature.)

The term tablet covers the class of computers that are exemplified by the Apple iPad; they differ from notebook/netbook computers in that they do not have a keyboard, which they do not need, of course, because their screens are touch-enabled. (An earlier term for such a device was a slate.) We can reflect on the fact that while iPod has some small traction as a generic term for a digital-music player, Apple has not succeeded in making iPad, or even just pad, the generic term for this class of computer.

Microsoft's new offering combines a touch-enabled screen with a built-in keyboard. It would not have been surprising had Microsoft, following a corporate preference for appropriating generic terms ("Office", "Word", "Windows"), simply named the new computer the Microsoft Tablet. A headscratcher for Microsoft, though, is that the they've already used the word tablet to describe a somewhat different device: the Microsoft Tablet PC, released in 2002, that was a combination of laptop and pen-based computer. i.e., a laptop that had a screen you could write on with a stylus.

Possibly they didn't want to muddy those waters. Yet in using the name Surface, Microsoft in fact reuses a name they used starting in 2007 to refer to a computer where you can interact with a touch screen that's on a tabletop, so to speak. (This has since been renamed to Microsoft PixelSense; you can speculate that the word surface hadn't really become associated strongly enough with that computing platform to cause marketplace confusion, who knows.)

Such digressions. In any event, as the article points out, Microsoft might have given us reason to need a new word that covers the ever-shrinking gap between tablet computers and laptop computers. Or maybe not. As fast as the industry moves, a term will emerge soon enough if it's needed.

* A term that I cannot find in the online OED for some reason.

** I also cannot find a definitive story as to how the term netbook came to be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A menagerie of failure

Among my duties at work is to review error messages, and one of our guiding principles is to understand that the user (in our case, the user is a programmer) who encounters an error message is not likely to be in a jovial state of mind. We aim toward the pragmatic: inform the user what happened, and suggest, as best we can, what the user can do to recover from the error condition. Just the facts, ma'am.

I note this as background because of a trend in the last few years toward error messages that have a heavy dose of whimsy. A well-known example is the image that decorates errors on the Twitter site, namely the fail whale (or Fail Whale):

Twitter's famous "fail whale"

The term fail whale has generalized to mean "large-scale failure" (or in the current parlance, "epic fail"). For example, The Huffington Post used the term fail whale in an article headline that recounts various financial setbacks and failures.

The fail whale spawned a new way to present error information, and there is now an entire collection of fail pets. Wikipedia lists the fail pets for a variety of additional websites:

For all the whimsy, though, the truth remains that an error is an error, and even if it's a cute one, you can only do so much to mitigate people's annoyance. As an article points out, a problem with personification of an error is that once the novelty wears off, the fail pet stops being amusing and becomes synonymous with failure. Ars Technica user: "Anyone get MoonSharked lately?" (Which as an aside shows a neat verbification of the mascot.) 

Whatever the trends in error messages, we have gotten the useful terms fail whale and fail pets out of it. Whether the terms have legs, of course, remains to be seen. 

You can read considerably more about the evolution and effectiveness of fail pets in a thoughtful article (The Evolution of Fail Pets : Strategic Whimsy and Brand Awareness in Error Messages) in UX Magazine

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Order takes its knoll

On Facebook, Friend Wendy alerts me to a term that I did not previously know: the verb to knoll. This refers to aligning or squaring things (as on a desk), or more broadly, arranging things in what might be considered an uber-anal-retentive way. (Salon calls it "A design meme for neat freaks." ) Here's a desk that's been knolled:

Here's what a knolled store might look like, courtesy of the artist Andreas Gursky:

The infallible Wikipedia relates this origin story:

The term was first used in 1987 by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor at Frank Gehry's furniture fabrication shop. At the time, Gehry was designing chairs for Knoll, a company famously known for Florence Knoll's angular furniture. Kromelow would arrange any displaced tools at right angles on all surfaces, and called this routine knolling, in that the tools were arranged in right angles—similar to Knoll furniture.

WP further notes that the sculptor Tom Sachs incorporated the rule "Always Be Knolling" (ABK) into his "10 Bullets" training film. You can see the relevant clip here:

I appreciate knolling for its aesthetic, and I aspire to becoming a knoller, tho this would not be evident from anything like, say, my desk. But at least I know a word for that thing I would like to do.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Computer not included

A couple of times in the last week I've run across the term BYOD: Bring Your Own Device. In what looks like  the most common usage today, it refers to employees using their personal devices (smartphones, tablets) for work-related tasks.

It's not entirely new, but it's, you know, trending. Here's a sequence:

In the few minutes I spent looking, the earliest cite I could find was in 2004, in an academic paper titled simply BYOD: Bring Your Own Device. Significantly, this usage does not refer to the personal-in-corporate-settings usage that's common today. (The paper is about using personal devices to interact with public displays.)

The currently popular usage seems to have emerged in 2010 and broken big in 2011 and it's going way strong right now. If the actual trend it describes really takes hold and becomes mainstream, I suppose that the term might become obsolete, inasmuch as it will be as self-evident as BYOL (bring your own lunch), BYOC (bring your own clothes), and so on.

Update: Meant to add as a personal note that my wife originally got a smartphone precisely so that she could use an app that's helpful for her work. (She's in medicine.) In effect, BYOD was her reason to get the D at all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Take an economic upturn and call me in the morning

Ran across a term in Slate today that is new enough, or self-conscious enough, that they had it in quotation marks:
Emily Bazelon has been writing an ongoing "recessionitis" series on how the recession is affecting family, work, and life.
Other cites are not so cautious; it shows up about 10,000 times in search. Here are a few examples of it used in context in roughly this same sense:
  • Continued: Med-tech diagnosis: Recessionitis. Prognosis: Uncertain. [#] Minneapolis Star business section)
  • How to Vaccinate Against Recessionitis [#] (U.S. News & World Report careers section)
  • Creativity Doesn’t Suffer Recessionitis in Vegas [#]
There is also, which is a deal-finder type of site that includes articles on how to save money.

I wasn't surprised that recessionitis — which still feels more like a play on words rather than a serious attempt at neologoizing — is in no dictionary beyond

(Something I will not investigate at the moment, but which seems like a promising line of inquiry, is just how productive the suffix -itis is, specifically in fields like economics and sociology.)

While poking around for this, I found a couple of other terms based on recession. One was recessionist. One definition is that it refers to someone who looks to save money (which seems to semantically overlap, to me anyway, with penny-pincher):
  • The Recessionist's Gift Guide [#]
  • The Recessionist's Guide to Entertainment [#]
Or someone who is the victim, so to speak, of the recession:
  • The Recessionist is a blog that tells the stories of the recently graduated who, despite going to some of the best colleges in the country, are
    struggling to find employment. [#]
  • Brooklyn Recessionist's Page: A blog about the trials, tribulations, and idiosyncrasies of this Recession
  • Recessionist Writing & The Slow Road To Hell [#] (Cranky, tho funny, rant: "If I hear or read one more person say they started writing because they were laid off from their real job and suddenly had all this wonderful time to write, I am stabbing that person in the throat with a fork.")
The following usage intrigued me because it seems to be used adverbially as a qualifier rather than as a noun:
  • Attacks on Indians in Australia: racist or recessionist? [#]
Ok, another term I ran across was recessionista. This one actually does appear in a dictionary (Collins), with an attestation for the year 2001. Definition: "a person whose clothes, whether cheap, second-hand, or suitably subdued, are considered appropriate to an economic downturn. And indeed, this term has a quarter-million hits on the search engines and plenty of sites and cites that use the term with this meaning.

The meanings of recessionist and recessionista overlap slighty; for example, the Brooklyn Recessionist whose blog I listed earlier actually calls herself BrooklynRecessionista in the URL of her site.
Now I'll have to be on the lookout for more terms based on recession. It would be nice to think, of course, that we'll have less use for any such terms in the future.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The season's best political term?

A term that I'm sure the original utterer (Eric Fehrnstrom) now regrets having used: Etch-a-Sketch. The context is a discussion about the Romney campaign:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-a-Sketch — you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.

The idea that candidates "tack to the extremes during the primaries and then head for the center as the general election looms" (#) is hardly new. But candidates (or their advisors) don't normally say this out loud.

I think that the appeal of this term and its power as a metaphor is actually helping it spread. (Which works against Romney, obviously.) It makes a great headline:
It'll be interesting to see whether Etch-a-Sketch enters the political vocabulary the way that Swift boat and flip-flopper and dog-whistle did (among many others, of course). If all goes well linguistically (leaving politics entirely aside), perhaps the term will be a candidate for the annual Word of the Year.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Vote for me, por favor!

Over on the New Yorker Online site, Silvia Killingsworth has coined and is trying hard to push a term she invented. Here's the context from the original post:

Besides being hard to identify, the Latino vote is not a winner-take-all proposition. That hasn’t stopped any of the candidates from trying to pander to Hispanics—heck, let’s coin a new term here: "Hispandering" — by using their only common denominator: the Spanish language.
Thing is, Killingsworth is not the first to coin the term. Urban Dictionary has a credible entry (for a change) for to hispander in which the definition says the terms was coined by Mickey Kaus in Slate. (I believe that the entry McCain's Last Stunt? was the original cite; I can't find an earlier one.)

It's an obvious enough term, I guess; it also shows up on the Red State Blog, Michelle Malkin's blog, and so on. There are about 53,000 hits on Google.

It make me wonder whether there are other blended terms like that involving the idea of attempting to appeal to a (perceived) special-interest group. It seems like there might be, but I'm drawing a blank. (About the only thing I can think of, which is only related because it's about politics and target audiences, is the phase dog-whistle politics.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Building privacy

A couple of terms today that aren't new, or not very. Both represent the verbing of some buildings, but what struck me was that I found them in successive paragraphs in the same article. Here we go (with non-essential text edited out):

Up until March 1, 2012, the data Google collected on you when you used YouTube was carefully cabined away from your other Google products.

The same siloing took place for your search history.

I've heard to silo as a verb about a million times; people at work are always talking about teams being siloed or the like. The most traditional definition for to silo is "to put into or preserve in a silo," the act of using an actual physical silo. Other senses of to silo derive from the metaphor not just of storing things centrally (information, say), but separation. This is how teams can be siloed — for example, a set of teams that cannot, for whatever reason, exchange information and work together. Example: "SEO can’t on its own rescue an online presence, and particularly not if an SEO team is siloed." [#])

And this is the sense in which the article writer uses siloing — information (which is stored in your browser) being kept separate from other information (also stored in your browser), and the two are not to interact. Wikipedia, not surprisingly, has an article on information silo that describes siloing, tho in what I think are more formal terms than what's intended in the cite above.

What surprised me was to see cabin used as a verb. This is apparently not very new or exotic. For example, lists one definition for cabin as "confine to a small space, such as a cabin." I could have sworn I'd never heard this verb before. If I have, it certainly hasn't been in the context of data storage.

Of course, the point of the article is that information won't be cabined and siloed any more. Perhaps that's what I should really be worrying about.