New words in technology

by Liz Walter

Computers and their related fields such as gaming and social networking are, not surprisingly, among the most fertile generators of new words; words which range from the technical to the merely descriptive to the innovatively humorous.

Games developers have given us augmented reality, a mixture of real and computer-generated images, and immersive reality which gives the impression that the gamer is actually taking part in the imaginary scene. Geo-targeted applications such as those used in geosocial networking use information about the location of their users to provide relevant services. This is all increasingly clever stuff, as is the progression from the search engine to the decision engine, which aims to use sophisticated profiling to direct us to the information we need.

Again and again we see the invention of a word to describe a new technological phenomenon being creatively adapted to cater for all its later permutations. So, for instance, we had blogs (quickly shortened from the more formal ‘weblogs’). Then, sites like Twitter introduced the concept of microblogging (writing very short blogs). Now, we can follow people who are liveblogging from events of all sorts. Recently in the Middle East, for instance, information leaked out of areas of conflict via moblogging (blogging on the move, often using mobile phones to transfer the blogs to the internet). The world of blogging – also known as the blogosphere, is open to anyone, writing on any subject. We have blogonistas who blog about fashion, eco-blogs and mummy blogs covering environmental and parenting issues – almost any subject is bloggable for someone.

The huge popularity of Twitter means that most people are aware of tweets (the micro-blogs themselves) and the activity of tweetingHashtags (words preceded by #) are used to identify subjects in tweets, and a subject that is being tweeted about a lot is said to be trending. As well as these specific words, though, it seems that Twitter has given people licence to prefix almost any word with ‘twit-‘ or ‘tw-‘.  The comedian Stephen Fry was said to have given a twinterview, and a protest launched on Twitter was dubbed a Twitchfork protest (by analogy with a ‘pitchfork protest’ in which ordinary people, armed only with the tools of their trade, rise up against their rulers). The Times reported that Victoria Beckham had posted ‘twitpics of her fashion shows and her dogs’, while The Guardian – talking about some celebrities who had expressed some unpleasant views – said that ‘Twitterstorms erupted over their controversial comments’.

People who spend too much time using computers should be aware that they are risking a host of previously unknown ailments.  They could end up with computer face (frown lines that result from staring at a screen), gorilla arm (a painful hand and arm caused by holding the arm up to operate a touch screen), laptop thigh (a rash or discolouration of the skin caused by heat from the laptop), or qwerty tummy (a bug picked up from someone else’s infected fingers on the keyboard).

As a bit of a Luddite myself, I can empathise with the person who spends most of their online time wilfing (thinking ‘What was I looking for?’), and even more with the poor helpdesk staff who are said to have coined the acronym PEBKAC for those frequent situations where it is obvious that the ‘Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Computer’.

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