Back in November, BoingBoing published a little piece by Cory Doctorow in which he in turn quotes one Phil Belanger:
Wi-Fi doesn't stand for anything.
It is not an acronym. There is no meaning.
Wi-Fi and the ying yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. We (the founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance) hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that we could use for our interoperability seal and marketing efforts. We needed something that was a little catchier than "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence".
The only reason that you hear anything about "Wireless Fidelity" is some of my colleagues in the group were afraid. They didn't understand branding or marketing. hey could not imagine using the name "Wi-Fi" without having some sort of literal explanation. So we compromised and agreed to include the tag line "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity" along with the name. This was a mistake and only served to confuse people and dilute the brand.
This is a little weird, isn't it? A word that's in common use today was invented as a brand name. Of course, that's nothing new: (insert long list here of one-time name brands). FWIW, it's interesting how quickly Wi-Fi took off.
Quiz: what does the term Wi-Fi actually mean? Extra points for providing both a formal and informal definition. (Hint: try Wikipedia.)
Anyway, the kinda weird part is that it came complete with a kind of back-etymology that, if one is to believe the quotation, was entirely invented. Based on a pun.
Doctorow has an earlier post in which he first noted this story, and got, uh, many comments contesting his assertion. Glenn Fleishman, a guy with some authority in this field (I guess), makes the following observation. (I am not a lawyer; please do not take the following as legal advice. Haha.)
Wi-Fi is a trademark and thus can't mean anything that's not arbitrary in the realm in which the trademark is coined. Wi-Fi had to have no prior meaning, so it's de facto meaningless.The phrase "wireless fidelity" comes in at about a million hits on Google at the moment, so clearly the pseudo-etymology took hold. The people who invented the term certainly can't complain that others mistakenly believe the etymology they invented, although they do seem to be doing just that. Someone notes in one of these posts that at least part of the reason for the pseudo-etymology was "when they started getting barraged by writers whose editors demanded that all acronyms must be spelled out." Heh. Been there. As regards that, I liked Doctorow's comment: even if Wi-Fi stood for wireless fidelity, what would it help you to know that? Excellent point. Been there, too.
We now return to our regular programming.
(All of this orginally via Raymond Chen.)