Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Longing for the future that was

In the New York Times Sunday Magazine this last week (Jun 13, 2014), Eric Schulmiller has an essay (paywall, probably) about our fondness for the visions in the past of what the future would look like. Unlike a lot of generally sour thinking in latter days about what the future holds (climate change, water shortages, "Blade Runner," Skynet), folks in the past often had a progressive view of what was in store for their grandchildren. As Schulmiller explains:
[I]n addition to our retreat into wishfulness, something else was brewing: a sense that the past was not only better than the present, but that the past’s predictions for the future were also better than what had actually become the present. No longer content to live in (or through) our memories of the past, we also yearned to live in the past’s vision of the future. We were nostalgic for yesterday’s prognostications.
Which he follows with:
You could say that we succumbed to prognostalgia.
The term is a portmanteau (prognostication+nostalgia). I don't love it as a word to say out loud, but it's a good combination, and it's hard not to like the way that it plays with chronological logic—indeed, the way that the title "Back to the Future" does, a movie around which Schulmiller crafts his essay. The concept is understood well enough; people are engaged in prognostalgia (ironically or otherwise) when they ask Where's my jetback? or cast fond thoughts onto the iconic tho short-lived Jetsons[1]:

Schulmiller does not claim in the essay that he invented this term. The blogger "Prog Nostal" has a blog named Prognostalgia that first appeared on June 8—that is, less than a week before Schulmiller's essay appeared. (We might be able to assume that Schulmiller had by then already penned his essay.) Blogger Prognos describes the process that he went through to arrive at prognostalgia and his proposed definition, which he promptly put up on Urban Dictionary:
Prognostalgia: "Longing for a predicted future for either selfish or utopian ideals."
It's not the first, tho. Back in 2009, the blogger Chris Adams wrote about how well ads by AT&T predicted the future. He doesn't use the term prognostalgia, but he links to a now-defunct entry on the RealityPrime site that suggests that Avi Bar-Zeev once wrote about the term. But for now the trail goes cold here.

I guess I'm doing my bit here to give the term some legs. The next time someone mentions jetpacks or taking vacations on the moon, tell them they're engaged in prognostalgia and let's get that term out there!

[1] There's a surprising (to me) number of pages on the web devoted to studying how accurately "The Jetsons" portrayed the future.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Some herstory of sheroes

I ran across a terms recently that was new to me but not particularly new in absolute terms. This was shero—a combination of she + hero that is defined (M-W) as "a woman regarded as a hero." The M-W entry says it made its first appearance in 1982, but provides no cites; the OED does not have the term. A Wiktionary entry has some actual cites, but the earliest is from 1998. But there's reason to think that M-W is probably correct, since an ngram search shows the term skyrocketing starting in the early 1980s:

There are a couple of things about shero that I find interesting. The first is that there is already a term for [female]+hero, namely heroine. The second pertains to the well-known debate about whether sex-specific terms are needed (e.g. actor/actress). Is there a even particular need for a word that singles out a female hero?

Consider one of the cites in the Wiktionary entry:
He talks about how we must remember the unsung heroes and sheroes of the Talahassee boycott, of the movement in general, and finally, he wonders how C. K. Steele would be accepted here.
Suppose that the cite had simply said "unsung heroes"—what does adding "and sheroes" do for the cite? You could argue that it reminds the reader that there were both men and women involved in the boycott, and that leaving it at "unsung heroes" might not have left that impression. (As a side note, the OED does have this to say in its first definition for hero: "A man (or occas. a woman) of superhuman strength, courage, or ability, favoured by the gods; esp. one regarded as semi-divine and immortal," emphasis mine.)

Could the previous cite have read "heroes and heroines"? My sense is that in this particular context, that would have worked, at least, if the intention really was just to remind readers about both the men and women involved.

Does shero have a connotation that heroine does not? Perhaps shero is modeled on herstory, which plays on morphological coincidence (hero starts with he-, history starts with his-) to surface a term that can then be interpreted to focus on women's experiences or concerns.

I do like that theory, but I'd need quite a few more cites to try to determine whether that's actually the intended meaning.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Poring over the straits of spelling

There are a couple of words that I feel like I see misspelled with some frequency, including among people who "should know better," which includes editors. These are pore and straitjacket. (Well, there are others, but these are the ones I'm thinking about today.)

I began thinking about pore when one of the kids, who was a tween at the time, reported to me with some pride that she'd found a typo in one of the Harry Potter books--namely, they'd misspelled "pour" in an expression like pore over a book. That alerted me to the idea that pore and poring were encountered seldom enough that even an avid reader might not have consciously encountered the terms by the age of, dunno, 13 or so.

I can't think of a clear (well, easy) way to research whether this is a change or whether it's always been so, especially since pore as a noun is extremely common, especially in the beauty industry. Nonetheless, indirect evidence is that pore shows up on lists of commonly misspelled or commonly confused words (#).

For straitjacket, it's slightly easier to see a trend of the increasing use of straightjacket, thanks to the Google ngram viewer:

As with pore, I think that the comparative rarity of the term strait (and straits) contributes to the confusion, as another chart suggests, this in spite of the bump that Mark Knopfler's group Dire Straits might have given the term around 1978, haha.

Arnold Zwicky contributed the entry in the Eggcorn Database on strait > straight, and if there's anyone who's given thought to the Recency Illusion, certainly it's him.

It's not an unreasonable mistake, not only due to the relative rarity of strait, but because it isn't hard to make some sense of the term straightjacket, perhaps (dunno) in the sense that it keeps your arms straight, or something like that.

If nothing else, it's evidence (as if we needed any) that spelling in English is hard. Even for those who work with it all day long.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Frecking awesome

Here's a term you'll be seeing a lot in the near future: frecking, as in Google Frecking. Here's the definition from what seems to be the originating source (Google Frecking: The Week in Pandas):
Google Frecking is an info-gathering game we devised — at the suggestion of our creative editor — for drilling a little deeper into a subject that intrigues us.
So far, 99% of the hits pertain to investigating pandas. But there was a new hit this morning on the NPR site in a story about Google Frecking the KKK:
So you set up a Google Alert – as part of an infogathering method you call Google Frecking — for the Ku Klux Klan, imagining you might get a dozen or so obscure hits over the week. As of today, you have received scores and scores and the alerts just keep coming.
  • Is it Google Frecking, Google-Frecking, Google frecking, or just frecking?
  • Why that term?
  • Do we think this has legs?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Exeunt from the C-suite

A nice coinage that showed up in my feed today, tho it's from an article that's a couple of years old:
'Execudus' in Redmond: Top Microsoft Execs Get Out
The quotation marks of course mean that this is a self-conscious usage. There are a couple of other instances of this term used in this way (and not, as I interpret it, as something to do with World of Warcraft); all seem to refer the same phenomenon of executives leaving Microsoft specifically. Some references don't include the quotation marks. Since I don't know WoW, I don't know how likely it is that the business-terminological mashup is inspired by the game. It's certainly understandable without any previous exposure to WoW.

The cited article is from 2011; it's possible that the term was pretty new then. A blogger for the Redmond Channel Partner site more or less suggests the newness of the term at that time:
Your editor is working on a story about Microsoft's recent executive departures (now known here as the Execudus), and this week one of the biggest names in Redmond is headed out the door.
I guess we'll have to see a similar exeunt from other companies before we can determine whether the word has legs.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How do we do it? Volume

One thing (the only thing?) we can thank the NSA's vast snooping effort for is the popularization of the term bulk spying. Open up a newspaper (virtual or otherwise) this week and you'd have a hard time missing the term.

It doesn't look as if the term is new, though. The BBC used the term bulk espionage in a piece from 23 Feb 2000, and a student learning English asked the next day what bulk spying meant.

Are there earlier cites? I need different corpora to search through ...

Friday, October 18, 2013

An assortment in advance

I was assigned the task today of acquiring a batch of donuts for my group at work. At the donut place I told the girl I wanted a dozen, and she said I could choose the ones I wanted, or alternatively, they had boxes of preassorted donuts.

The pre- part is clear. Why not preselected? When I roll that one around in my mind, it gives the feeling of deliberateness to the selection process. Do they mean that there's some randomness in their assortment? Too bad I didn't have the presence of mind to ask how their preassorting process works.

They are not alone in using the term. I found about 500 legitimate hits on Google. As I look through the listings, I'm not sure I can detect a definitive pattern. Here are some examples:
... and more.

I actually have access to a kind of subject-matter expert; my daughter works at a store that sells chocolates. I asked her whether they sell "preassorted" collections. No, she said; they use the terms pre-packed or just assorted. Both of which make sense to me.

So I'm still a little unclear on what preassorted conveys that preselected doesn't. Any ideas?

Monday, June 24, 2013

The singularity of premise

One of my colleagues recently sent me a mild complaint about the use of premise in this context:
AWS Direct Connect makes it easy to establish a dedicated network connection from your premise to AWS. Using AWS Direct Connect, you can establish private connectivity between AWS and your datacenter, office, or colocation environment [...]
Specifically, of course, the observation is that as used in this context, the term should be premises, as per the second definition here:

It seems possible to me that premise in the usage above might be an example of a singular back-formation from what is in effect a mass noun (premises), along the lines of pease > peas > pea. (See also cherry.) Thus, premises in this context is being interpreted as a plural—We visited the company's [many] premises.

If this analysis is true, it seems like the tendency to think of the land-oriented premise as singular might be helped along by the existence of premise as an existing singular, albeit with a different meaning.

Someone else pointed out that the term on-premise has some traction. Assuming that Mr. Google is correctly interpreting my query, that term seems to have been a variant with equal frequency for a while of on-premises:

It is a bit curious to me that the lines diverge in the 1980s and then on-premises starts to head back downward. However, that might be due to the query, not to actual usage.

What do you think? Do you use and/or do you hear premise as a singular being used to refer to a facility or building?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

0day, 0dear

Here are a couple of small but interesting wordy things in a post by Brian Krebs about the recent Java (programming language) security vulnerability:
On Sunday, Oracle rushed out a fix for a critical bug in Java that had been folded into exploit kits, crimeware made to automate the exploitation of computers via Web browser vulnerabilities.
The term malware is well established, of course. But crimeware is a different beast; it's not what the bad guys put on your computer to perform their dirty deeds, but the software that they use to build their exploits in the first place. As the mighty Wikipedia puts it, crimeware is "a class of malware designed specifically to automate cybercrime." Later in the article, Krebs refers to "weaponized versions of the exploit," which gets across the idea also. There's a book:

In the same paragraph, Krebs uses another interesting term that's not that unusual, but that is misrepresented by the font of the article. Let me show you a picture:

A body who's not attuned to the font (and who's reading it at normal size) might read this as oday. But it's 0day (zero-day), with the digit thwarted by the font (Georgia, it looks like). Oday is just leet-y shorthand for zero-day, an adjective meaning "pertaining to a program that exploits a computer security vulnerability before security experts can address it." Indeed, searching for "0day" (mit de zero) directs you to Zero-day attack high in your results. (Searching for oday gets you nothing interesting, in case you were wondering.)

And that's about as much fun as I can extract from this one article today.

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 Gawker.com (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 wordorigins.org 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 Recessionitis.com, 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 UrbanDictionary.com.

(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, Vocabulary.com 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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Create + Update = ?

In the world of databases, you can perform what are generally (and amusingly) referred to as CRUD operations -- create, read, update, and delete. Every editor I personally know who's encountered the term CRUD has been moved to ask "Seriously, can we even use this term?" Indeed, we can and, since our audience uses it, we should.

Fun as that is, I'm actually interested today in a term I have run across a few times recently that pertains to just two of these, namely create and update. The standard database command for creating a new database entry is Insert. If you need to update an existing entry, you use (logically) the Update command. Sometimes, tho, you have a situation where you want to update-or-insert — that is, update the item if it exists, or create (insert) it if it doesn't.

Turns out there's actually a term for this: Upsert. Like, a legitimate, definitely-in-use term that gets over 100,000 search hits and that has its own Wikipedia entry.

Like CRUD, this isn't apt to warm the hearts of editors. (It's also not yet in general dictionaries, which is more editorial reason to frown about it.) It's handy, tho, at least for the crowd that deals with CRUD-y stuff all day long. The term has been formalized in at least a few programming frameworks as an actual command (salesforce.com, Oracle). It's hard to imagine that the terms would escape into general usage from its current confines in the world of database folks. But you never know.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I can C you now

Had one of those moments. Yesterday evening my wife was looking at the cover of one of her nursing magazines, which had an article titled "Nurses in the C-Suite." "What does that mean?", she asked me. My articulate reply: "Huh?"

Then today I was glancing at someone's resume, which said this: "Highly effective external and internal communication from C-level to consumer." Same term, basically, twice within 24 hours. What the heck?

Apparently I've been out of touch with the terms C-suite and C-level. It's all over Google (> 1 million) hits, as if the evidence of seeing it on the cover of a magazine weren't enough evidence that it's widely known. Wikipedia has a nice explanation in its entry for Corporate title:

The highest level executives are usually called "C-level" or part of the "C-suite", referring to the 3-letter initials starting with "C" and ending with "O" (for "Chief __________ Officer"); the traditional offices are Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), and Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Chief administrative officer and Chief risk officer positions are often found in banking, insurance, and other financial services companies. Technology companies (including telecom and semi-conductor) tend to have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), while companies with a strong Information Technology (IT) presence have a Chief Information Officer (CIO). In creative/design companies (such as film studios, a comics company or a web design company), there is sometimes a Chief Creative Officer (CCO), responsible for keeping the overall look and feel of different products, otherwise headed by different teams, constant throughout a brand.

I take a very small comfort that the terms C-level and C-office don't appear (yet) in general-purpose dictionaries (including the OED, as far as I can tell). The Investopedia site has a definition that refers to C-suite as "widely used slang." That seems right.

I'm curious how long the terms have been around; they seem widespread enough to seem pretty established. Paul McFedries finds a citation from 1997 for CxO (Chief [Whatever] Officer), and his entry (tho not the citation) talks about C-suite and C-level.

I tried a Google n-gram search, but the hyphen is treated as a token by itself and I don't know how to get around that just yet.

Anyway, there you go: one of those moments. A term (two terms) that I've apparently been surrounded by for a decade or more and would have sworn I'd never heard before. I suppose it's evidence that I my own self will not soon be achieving any sort of C-level.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why a Duck?

Back in July, a section of [the] 405 in Los Angeles was closed for repair. The anticipation of the traffic mess that this was going to make spawned the term carmageddon. (In the end, that whole project went pretty smoothly, possibly due to the extreme publicity and people's efforts to "use alternate routes.")

In Seattle, the venerable Alaskan Way Viaduct that runs along the downtown waterfront — a stretch of State Route 99 — has been shut down. This is the first phase of a project in which the old viaduct will be replaced with a tunnel. The viaduct is old (1953) and was damaged during a 2001 earthquake. Everyone feared a repeat of the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct in San Francisco, and the state DOT (cleverly?) posted a video that showed a simulation of what might happen to the viaduct in an earthquake.

All this led to a, um, Seattle-style debate about how to replace it, and here we are, a decade later, finally getting around to actually doing something. As of Friday October 21, the viaduct will be shut for 10 days while they do some preliminary work.

The problem is that the viaduct carries about 100,000 cars a day and that the only other major north-south route in Seattle is I-5. Closing off this route is, as with the L.A. closure of I-405, many people's worst traffic nightmare.

Ok! So what to call it? Carmageddon is sort of already claimed.

An early term that the MSM seems to favor is Viaduct Crunch. Adequate, but lacking that certain something.

Let's see what's shaking on Twitter! One hashtag on Twitter that has some traction is #viacondios. Cute, but to my mind a bit of a stretch.

It's looking like people are converging around #viadoom. It's all over Twitter, of course, and the term has gotten enough traction that it's showing up (albeit in quotation marks) in media reports — for example, in a Reuters article.

I do suspect that cute names for this little diversion are going to wear thin very quickly. L.A.'s carmageddon lasted one weekend. Viadoom is going to last 10 days, and there's years' worth of construction still to come. Perhaps when the tunnel boring starts in earnest, we'll get another term for that particular mess.

PS Should you not recognize the title of this entry, have a gander at this video.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just throw some text at it

We've mused here before about the interesting "up" particle that can be added to so many verbs (man up, whip up, bulk up, eat it up, new up).* In Dilbert today, another appearance of the interesting "up":


This usage is not, I believe, the "up of completeness" -- eat up, drink it up. Rather, it's the "up" of "conjure [up]" -- whip (something) up, maybe even draw (a contract) up and make (something) up (?). There are subtle gradations of meaning here that might or might not all be the same.

Anyway, I like this a lot. Perhaps because there's been more than one time when I was indeed called upon to "word something up."

* And not just here; see also Fritinancy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Hello, World"

Over on my main blog, I have a piece on how Dennis Ritchie's influential book The C Programming Language introduced the phrase "Hello, World" to represent the starting point for pretty much any learning experience. Check it out:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let's (cohort) party down

A friend of mine recently sent me email in which he said he'd been standing in an elevator with some young people who were talking about a "cohort party" and did I know what that was? Not me. To my surprise, searching around revealed many uses of cohort in casual ways that suggested people were familiar with the term:
  • If anyone is interested in having a cohort party, feel free to suggest some possible ideas. […] On friday, Melanie was saying something about a get together on December 15th, which is the day after we finish our practicum [#]

  • Some girls from my Elementary Education cohort decided to have a couples party. [#]

  • Each intake is split into cohorts. Each cohort divides into clusters. And each cluster… well, it’s just a cluster. So a lot of socialising happens at the cohort level. Like last night at the Irish pub in Rittenhouse Square, where the INSEAD group crashed a two-cohort party. We were told to ask the cohort of whomever we spoke to before they had a chance to ask ours. If they said “cohort E”, we were to pretend to be from “cohort I”. If they said “cohort I”, we were naturally from “cohort E” [#]

  • We have had the chance to meet many members of Cohort 10 as they’ve joined us for classes and speaker series over the past few months […] Now we are all anxiously awaiting the Baltimore Study Group-sponsored cohort party in January. [#]

And so on. But no actual definitions, as in "a cohort party is ...," really sprang out. My kids are college age and not un-hip; when I queried them, my son did note that he understood the term cohort in its, what, sociological sense: "a group of people having approximately the same age." But the term cohort party rang no bells with him.

I have to conclude two things. Thing one: I'm an old guy and the term cohort seems sort of quasi-technical to me (when I hear it, I think "academic paper"), but for younger people, it's a normal word that they're used to hearing in descriptions of their class/group/work unit. I asked Ben Zimmer about this whole thing, and he noted that he only started hearing cohort when he got to grad school, where it was used to describe what I might have termed his "graduating class." An n-gram for cohort provides a bit of evidence that use of the term has been rising since about 1970 or so:

Thing two is that a cohort party is nothing more than a party that your cohort -- your school class, whatever -- is throwing. And the reason that this seems strange to us oldsters is that cohort is just not a term we were brought up with.

If anyone knows something more specific than this, I'd sure love to hear it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A smarter way to app

The Windows Phone people are rolling out a new version of the operating system, known officially as Windows Phone 7.5, known unofficially by its code name "Mango." The tagline (or one of them, anyway) seems to be "A smarter way to app":

(Click here to see a 30-second video.)

The meaning they intend seems to be "a smarter way to use apps" as opposed to, say, "a smarter way to create apps." (Which would be a meaning that might have some traction in the group I work in.) Or I suppose you could interpret it as "a smarter way for us (Phone) to present apps to you (user)."

Certainly app has been established as a noun, and there was the interesting tussle earlier in 2011 when Apple sued Amazon over the trademark "App Store."

But I haven't till now seen app being used as a verb. Of course, this is marketing, and those folks are nothing if not playful with grammar.

Monday, September 12, 2011

One Nissan Leaf, two Nissan ...

Now it's not just the Prius and its tricky plural. Nissan's electric car is the Leaf. Suppose you had two of them. They'd be ... Leaves? Leafs? June Casagrande thinks Leafs. So do I, and for the reason she mentions. (See my thots about the Prius.) You?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The honey badgers of web development

First there was the honey badger, a badger-like creature that's apparently known for its "ferocious defensive abilities." Then there was a nature program (video) that explored the honey badger's appetite for such delicacies as bee larvae and cobras and its apparent indifference to bees and snakebite and venom and pain. And then there
was Randall's alternate narration (video) for that nature documentary, from which all the world learned that "Honey badger don't care. Honey badger don't give a shit."

Like it? Get the t-shirt or the poster.

Right, this isn't news; the Know Your Meme site has a nice piece that recounts the brief history. (It also came up in the TV show "Glee," which is nothing if not culturally au courant.)

What's fun is watching the term honey badger go generic. Earlier this year, Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) tweeted this:

Honey badger don't care about "i.e." and "e.g." (http://youtu.be/4r7wHMg5Yjg), but you should: http://j.mp/m3apUD

That was in May; note that she uses the full phrase and includes a link for the as-then-still uninitiated. But yesterday I found this in a technical article:

Then there are the honey badgers of web development, the notorious Content Management Systems, designed to kill all your hopes and dreams.

No "don't care" here; no link. You either get it or don't.[1]

This is what really interests me; is it possible for the term honey badger to become decoupled from any explicit reference to Randall's video and enter the lexicon as a synonym for, dunno, "indifference" ("aggressive indifference"?). That would be pretty awesome for Randall, and awesome to have seen it happen.

1 As an aside, from an editorial perspective, the article is filled with cultural references and is too clever by half, as people say. Woe onto the non-English-as-first-language speaker (non-American?) who reads this. Entertaining, tho. :-)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Organize and humorize

A little tongue-in-cheek (mostly) humorization from The New Yorker:

I say "mostly" because although they used a hyphen in the body of the ad, they don't in the subject line of the email where I saw this.

Update: This is an ad for a desk calendar, in case that isn't clear, oops.

I personally have no problem with -izing nouns, but some folks do ("seemingly lazy application of this custom").

Friday, August 12, 2011

True only if you don't say it about yourself

It's always bugged me, too, this thing where a person or a company takes pains to tell you what they think their virtues are:

  • I'm a classy person.
  • I'm an educated person.
  • I'm a modest person.
  • (Most any reference to "elegant" in a product description.)
  • etc.

Now John Scalzi has coined a term for this: McKean's inversion. He describes it this way:

The adjective a person says they are is frequently the thing they are not.

The name McKean's inversion originates via an indirect route. Erin McKean is a lexicographer (among her other talents) who once stated what's come to be known as McKean's Law: "Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error." Scalzi knows McKean and says he remembers how she once observed that ...

... if someone used the word to describe themselves, it was often quite obvious that they were in fact the opposite.

Thus the inversion. And as noted, McKean's Law was already taken.

It's a little early to tell, but my sense is that this is intended to be used for instances where the person is being a bit clueless. It would therefore not work when they're simply being disingenuous, e.g., "I'm just a humble technical writer." But who knows?

Friday, August 05, 2011

One media to rule them all

Not a surprising neologism in retrospect, but then again, good ones always seem obvious after the fact:

... etc., about 23K hits in all on teh Google. The term seems to be a particular favorite of John Pilger.

Definition? Well, dunno, something like this:

Murdoch's immense political power , which has had successive Prime Ministers dancing attendance on him, and rushing to confer lucrative favors on his News Corporation.
(Thanks to James Galasyn for finding this one.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Legitimate illegitimists?

It's not often you get to watch a new word being launched, but we might have one here. On Slate yesterday, Anne Applebaum gave it a shot:
In contemporary America, we also have people who are — and I am inventing this word here — illegitimists: They believe that the president of the United States is illegitimately elected, or that the country is ruled by a cabal that is in turn controlled by some other sinister force or forces.
(She is careful to note that her intent is to be agnostic with respect to political persuasion, by noting that this also described Marxists in an earlier era. Not everyone buys this attempt.)

Just as a word, illegitimist is not unknown. It has no dictionary entry in standard dictionaries (at least, as per Dictionary.com and Vocabulary.com). Even the mighty OED does not have a specific entry for this term. However, there is a precedent or two:

  • In Treitschke's History of Germany in the Nineteeth Century, we find "... must play the magnanimous protector of the illegitimist Isabella."
  • J. E. P. Boulden has a play named Medicine; or, the legitimists and the illegitimists.
But these are slightly different meanings, I deduce; these refer to people who are illegitimate, as opposed to people who question the legitimacy of something.

This seems like a handy term to me. It covers more ground than various specific manifestations of illegitimism (birthers are her poster child). It gets at a kind of core belief system that's independent of the specifics of why the illegitimist thinks the government is illegitimate, and even which government (or other authority) is being thusly considered.

One could imagine the term being used outside a political context, I suppose. You might use some term and point at the American Heritage Dictionary as your authority, and I could be an illegitimist about that authority. Or we could use the term to debate someone's religious beliefs and the sources thereof; or, if the term really dug in, we could use it to refer to anyone who questions any claim made by an appeal to authority. That seems unlikely, but you never know. Still, the term has to start somewhere. Let's see how it goes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

PepsiCo and the future of snack terms

The May 16, 2011 edition of The New Yorker has a fascinating article ("Snacks for a Fat Planet," paywall) about the PepsiCo's efforts to try to divine their future markets. It's also fascinating for an unusual number of neological-type terms and for the not-entirely-clear formula they're using to determine whether to put presumably unfamiliar terms inside quotation marks.

The two terms that struck me first were drinkified (for foods) and snackified (for drinks). Here's a cite that sums it up:

Let's say you give a kid a carrot," Nooyi [CEO] explained. "And he says, 'I don't want to eat a carrot.' But you say, 'I tell you what, I'll give it to you in a wonderful drinkable form that's still as close to the carrot as possible.' All of a sudden, what have I done? I've drinkified the snack! Or I take a fruit juice and give it to you in a wonderful squeezable form, which is Tropolis. What have I done now? I've snackified the drink.

There are ~9000 hits on Google for drinkified; many of them reference this same thing (either the article or similar stories about PepsiCo).

I'm just going to go out on a limb here and muse that these two terms are going to irritate a lot of people.

As I say, there were some other terms in the article as well. One is, I think, of Pepsi origin, others are from other fields, but relatively unfamiliar. Let's say that there are a lot of quotation marks in the article around terms. Here's my list:

  • reward sensitivity -- a term from psychology (?) referring to how easily people are satisfied. (Something that people who design snacks take into account.) No quotation marks in the article. (34K Google hits.)
  • bliss point -- the point at which you achieve satisfaction, same context. In quotation marks. (48K Google hits.)
  • sip and spit, e.g. sip and spit rooms -- the technique used for tasting. In quotation marks. (Familiar from wine and coffee tasting, I suppose -- 160K Google hits.)
  • blue-can Pepsi -- the traditional/original version of Pepsi. No quotation marks. (8K Google hits.)
Not all new terms, but new enough, I guess, that John Seabrook (or some editor) decided that some -- but not all -- needed to be marked.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From Greek battles to all-day presentations

One of the VPs where I work is a guy named Scott Guthrie, who's one of those people who seems to be able to pack about 48 hours into a day. In addition to VP-ing, whatever that exactly consists of, he flies around the world giving presentations -- often keynote speeches -- to large and enthusiastic audiences of programmers.

A diversion. At Microsoft (and, I imagine, many other places), the basic algorithm that they use to assign you an email name is first name + last initial. For example, an email alias that's well know at Microsoft is billg. However, if you've got a common name (like Mike, for example), they have to do something else. One possibility is to start adding letters to the last name. As a result, Scott Guthrie's email address is scottgu. Partly because we seem to have so many Scotts in our division, this has led to VP Guthrie being referred to as "Gu" or even "the Gu" (pronounced "goo," of course). Example: "We're meeting tomorrow with the Gu about this."*

And now to wrench the discussion to a new track. Once upon a time there was a battle near the Greek city named Marathon, and a dude named Pheidippides started a trend by supposedly running some insane distance to announce an Athenian victory. (And this before Gatorade.) Now a marathon is a really long race, or by extension, "any contest, event, or the like, of great, or greater than normal, length or duration or requiring exceptional endurance." Example: dance marathon, sales marathon.

But why use a full name like dance marathon when you can use, so to speak, first name + last bit? The -athon suffix is very productive. Here's just a few of the many, many examples I found:

Almost all the usages I've found use a hyphen to mark either -athon or -a-thon. (The latter spelling suggests that -thon could by itself be the suffix, but I haven't found an example.) The exception is walkathon, which might have become sufficiently established to be thought of as a single word rather than a conscious construction, dunno.

Back to the Gu. I'm not sure how many people use "Gu" as a vocative in Scott's presence, but he's well aware of it. So much so, in fact, that Scott decided to refer to the occasional all-day presentation that he gives as a Guathon. We hope, of course, that this refers only to the "greater than normal length or duration" of the event and not to it "requiring exceptional endurance." :-)

* There is, I'm sure, a study somewhere that examines the phenomenon of referring to people in the third person by their email aliases -- at Microsoft, the once-feared "BillG review" has, AFAIK, no other name.

Monday, April 04, 2011

It's useless, but somehow not

Twitter. Even ardent supporters admit that if you describe Twitter in simple terms ("you post whatever pops into your head, many times a day!"), it does seem lame. Someone once called it "the stupidest application you’re ever going to see."

Yet this was someone who thought it was great. Fans have a hard time describing to the unconvinced why Twitter is so great. Scott Hanselman -- prolific blogger, early adopter, and unabashed supporter -- came up with a term that seems to capture this combination of banality and utility in his blog post Twitter: The Uselessfulness of Micro-blogging. In fact, Hanselman goes one better in a subsequent post -- he calls Twitter a river of uselessfulness, and a river (indeed, torrent) it is.

It's an amusing neologism, what with its oxymoronic melding and clever way of both anticipating and retorting to the common criticism of Twitter.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is not the only citation. I found one instance from a time before Scott's blog post, and meaning roughly the same thing (I think), but in a very different context. This is from a forum post that pertains to pickup trucks:
Nothing fancy and of debatable uselessfullness (probably should never be in 4Hi with lockers ON). Maybe some cases in sand dunes or snow, but not much else.
Or perhaps this is just a bit of a mistake. Note that the author here includes "debatable," which I think is unnecessary if you stick to your guns with the new term.

I did find another instance, more recent, but this one is clearly intended with a different meaning.
Uselessfulness. Yes that is now a word. A term we are coining for Tuscon artist Nick Georgiou who takes useless trash (pretty much anything print) and creates amazing useful works of art.
And one more, which came up in the context of a programming blog, a post titled Shuffle: an extension method of random uselessfulness. In this case, the author simply uses the word with no real additional context. I believe the implication is that he's presenting a programming technique that is of perhaps no real use, but it's actually not that clear to me why he's using the term or what he means by it.

I know Scott a little bit, enough to ask him about this term. He confirms that he invented the term for his original blog post. I'm guessing that these other instances are probably independent inventions, or in the last case (the programming blog), maybe it's one of Scott's readers taking up the term and propagating it.

A fun exercise would be to think of new places to wield this term. The concept certainly isn't strange, so there should be lots of candidates. :-)

Friday, April 01, 2011

Truthiness and falsiness

Stephen Colbert put the term truthiness on the map (pdf), but there is a context where the terms truthy and falsy have another, quite precise meaning. This is among people who use the programming language known as JavaScript, which runs in web browsers. The following explanation, by Mike Davies, appears on the isolani blog:
JavaScript has keywords for true and false, but like many C-style derivative languages, it has concepts of truthy and falsy. These are non-boolean expressions that can be treated as a boolean value. The number zero is falsy, and any other number is truthy. Equally for strings, an empty string is falsy, and a non-empty string is truthy.
A slight variation from another blog:
When javascript is expecting a boolean and it’s given something else, it decides whether the something else is "truthy" or "falsy". An empty string (''), the number 0, null, NaN, a boolean FALSE, and undefined variables are all "falsy". Everything else is “truthy”.
(NaN here refers to a value known as "not a number", which JavaScript returns when it needs a number but gets something else, like if you try to add 12 + "a". A discussion for another time: does boolean get a cap?)

I'm not finding a lot of references to these terms outside JavaScript. One blogger uses the terms when referring to the Clojure programming language, and I found a couple of references to falsy in some text about the language Python. Contrary to what the first cite suggests, truthy and falsy are not, at least as far as I can tell, used in descriptions of the C language or its close cousins C++ or Java.

Truthy does have a dictionary definition, which is listed as "Truthful; likely; probable." It seems to me that the JavaScript definition does not match this; in JavaScript we're not talking about likelihood or probability, just a collection of values that all are treated the same (i.e., as true).