New Virtual Words and the Naming of Things--the Interdependence of Technology and Society
For the past couple of years, I have subscribed to the Urban Dictionary Word of the Day, receiving a daily email of a newly-coined word along with its definition-- often humorous terms and irreverent mash-ups, word-remixes, and neologisms. All submitted and voted on with a thumbs up or a thumbs down by approximately one million Urban Dictionary site users. (http://www.urbandictionary.com/)
It is easy to see how some Urban Dictionary words came about, influenced by technology, such as gigabucks, which means one billion dollars, or netglow. (Someone or something has netglow when it is better online than in real life.) Webtrovert is defined as a real-life shy introvert who becomes an extrovert online. Perhaps there is a certain courage in the serious-play of recording words so new they may or may not catch-on.
The recently released Google ebook titled, Virtual Words:Language on the Edge of Science and Technology,(Oxford University Press), authored by Jonathon Keats, delves into naming conventions and oddities of word development more long-standing and socially entrenched. Virtual Words is not a dictionary definition list but a collection of essays on historical discoveries and developments that progress into recent times. A Virtual Words essay tells the story of early word-combines and how they came to be included in the scientific periodic table--such element names as, Germanium and Polonium(for Germany and Poland), Americanium, Californium, Berkelium(for Berkeley, California), and Einsteinium.
Then moving along in time, Virtual Words author Keats gives examples of how terms such as quark came into use. One scientist first called quarks *aces*, until a second scientist decided he liked the duck-like sound of kwork or quark, a la the Finnegans Wake nonsense poem Three quarks for Muster Mark, a poem that coincidentally contained the same number of quarks to match the number in his own scientific theory.
More recently, an atmospheric chemist named Paul Crutzen credits himself with coming up with the spontaneous neologism Anthropocene, a new name for our current geological epic. The name Anthopocene reflects the effect humans have had on the planet and also anticipates how scientists of the future will view our present time.
"We develop vocabulary to make distinctions", Keats points out in Virtual Words. Further describing how stars are merely numbered as they are discovered, creative writing is marginalized (especially poetry), but scientific rhetoric makes TV news, because common usage words develop and enter the language more gradually than scientific developments.Continued on the next page