Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Digital Age Lexicon

The Digital Age lexicon always bemuse me.

Kids today are very IT savvy. They know very much about how to work on the computers and lead an active virtual social life. However, they are not necessarily so well-informed about how things get to where they are now. This is not surprising as they were not there to see how it all began.

Here are just some examples which I have picked up:

SHIFT keys actually shift

If you use the computer keyboard, you would have known what the SHIFT key does. When you hold this key
down together with another key, it 'shifts' a letter to the upper case (from 'a' to 'A') or a number to a symbol (from '4' to '$').

Quite simple but why name the key 'SHIFT'?

'SHIFT' key existed since the typewriter days (do I have to explain 'typewriter' too??). When the 'SHIFT' key on a typewriter is physically held down, the typebar of the typewriter will be mechanically switched to the Capital Letter set. To resume the lower case typebar, simply release the 'SHIFT' key.

Today, the 'SHIFT' key on your computer keyboard does not physically shift unless it is time to change into a
new keyboard.

SPAM is food

This is a much hated word (at least it is to me). It reminds you of all the numerous unsolicited emails you receive everyday, jamming your mailbox and wasting your time deleting them.

Again, why 'spam'?

In the first place, 'spam' was not even an English word, well at least not until the 1970s. Originally, 'SPAM'
referred to canned luncheon meat produced by Hormel since 1937. I can tell that 'SPAM' was not taken as something of good quality as some people had mocked it as "Something Posing As Meat" or "Spare Parts Animal Meat".

'SPAM' is still available today and it is sold in the local supermarkets in Singapore too. However, many local consumers probably do not take notice of it as much as other more familiar brands of canned meat such as "Maling" or "Tulip".

See "Aargh ! Ham In My Inbox !" which I wrote in Oct 08 and find out how the ham got into the mailbox.

'Adulteration' of commonly used words

The IT people love to make day-to-day words sound weird. Since computer invaded our lives, simple
words we learn during our elementary years are now having alternative meanings.

In "Please Speak
English", I grumbled about my "Geek Blues" and how some of the geek words had frustrated me. I have taken some examples from there.

1. Windows

Windows are no longer just part of a house - I close the 'windows' on my computer many times a day but I rarely do so on the real windows. Well, unless it rains.

2. Apple

'Apple' used to be just the first picture on your flash cards. I grew up learning "A is for Apple" and I am very sure it referred to the fruit. Today, when someone tells me that he bought an Apple, I cannot assume that it is something to be eaten. I believe in time to come, our kids may ask us "Why is this fruit named after the computer?"

3. Cookies

Cookies are not just to be eaten, but to be deleted. Why on earth must they call those computer data cookies? It seems like a desperate attempt to make boring IT stuff sound cute. Try harder. What are these cookies anyway? Well, I don't know if I can understand enough to explain. Help yourself with the 'cookies', err... its explanation, I mean.

4. Java

I first learned about Java during my Geography lessons. Now, Java is better known as a programming language rather than a place near Singapore. Did you just ask "Where is Java??"

5. RAM

As little children, we learned that in the sheep family, papa is 'ram', mama is 'ewe' and baby is 'lamb'. Somehow, RAM is not just a boy sheep anymore but it is 'Random Access Memory' which is the computer's working memory. Baaaaa.

Virus or worms

Again, this is something I learned during my Biology class. These things can be harmful, I was told. Now, they are still harmful but not just to our bodies but also our computers. Well, they aren't even organic!

The illustration can go on but I think you get the point.

The things around us keep changing at a fast pace. Nothing much stay constant for a long time any more, not even the meaning of words. When I was a child, 'gay' meant happy. Now, when I mention 'gay', many people aren't going to be very happy with me. How confusing!

Even the universal truth of Thermodynamics is subject to challenge. When I say that you are 'hot', chances
are I also think that you are 'cool'. This is even more confusing!

Looks like we just have to keep up with the evolution of new jargon, no matter how much we dislike the way new words are created or adapted. In the IT world, it is a fine line between a geek and a nerd. You wouldn't know which one you are unless you know what they mean.

So, sit up and keep up.

"User, n.
The word computer professionals use when they mean idiot."
~Dave Barry~
American Author

Also see

The Legacy of Carbon Copy

Jai Ho" - Part of a Global Language?

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