Posts Tagged slang

Tech glossary

I love learning jargon, and at a recent tech conference in New York City I got to add a few pieces to my collection. Here’s what technologists use to describe what they do when normal words simply aren’t enough.

Tech (n.) Any device incorporating digital technology, and the digital technology itself.

Exp: “This new iPhone is a great piece of tech.”

This is quickly devolving from shorthand for technology into a word exclusively denoting smartphones, tablets, and the bits and pieces that make them work. We say that our society has faith in technology, but many of us seem to actually mean the kinds of technology that come with plenty of silicon.

Unlike a lot of jargon, “tech” is actually a bit non-specific. A smartphone is a piece of tech, but so are the hardware and software that comprise it. Sometimes tech entrepreneurs need to be more specific, which brings us to our next term…

Solution (n.) A product proffered by a tech company for a specific application.

Exp: “Our company provides innovative solutions for in-car infotainment.”

Since a lot of what tech companies produce is non-corporeal software, someone obviously thought it was a good idea to ditch the word “product,” which implies something more substantial; it’s basically the opposite of what the finance industry did. it’s a suitable term for a technology that seeks to insert itself into all kinds of situations, from glasses to car dashboards.

Innovate (v.) To create something new, specifically a new piece of tech.

Exp: “To solve society’s problems, people need to be free to innovate.”

I miss the days of Dexter’s Laboratory and middle school history lessons about Thomas Edison, when scientists and engineerings invented things instead of just innovating. Being innovative is great, but shouldn’t there be a specific goal behind the innovation? A carbon fiber toothbrush would be incredibly innovative, but there wouldn’t be much of a point to it.

Space (n.) A subject, an area of expertise, a topic.

Exp: “Milled aluminum knobs are very important in the home audio space.”

This admittedly, has more to do with the people writing about the tech industry than the people in it. For some reason, when it comes to technology, there aren’t topics or beats, there are spaces.

Maybe it has to do with the way tech takes on different forms to infiltrate into different physical spaces; morphing into intelligent flat screens and TFT speedometers.

Got any tech terms of your own? Post them in the comments below.

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First world problems

So I’ve encountered a new phrase called “first world problems.” I have a problem with this phrase.

It seems to mean something that really isn’t a big deal, like having to prepare a presentation or being peeved that the barista put cream in your Starbucks concoction instead of milk. You know, things that don’t have to do with subsistence.

I see what people are getting at here. We all get wrapped up in our lives, make mountains out of mole hills and forget how lucky we are to live the way we do. That’s fine.

Checking your whining with a phrase like “first world problems” is a little obnoxious, though. It sounds like the person is saying “I know I shouldn’t be complaining about this trivial thing, but I will,” or “See how conscious I am of other people’s suffering?”

Both are very “first world” things to do. I’m a huge fan of irony, but too much of a good thing is still a problem. Drawing an implied comparison between oneself and a starving African child or a smog-choked Chinese factory worker doesn’t make a person sound smart or sensitive, it just makes them sound like they are trying to license their whining.

The phrase “first world problems” is also etymologically dubious. Do you ever notice why people never talk about the second world? It’s because the terms first world and second world were coined during the Cold War to describe the United States and its NATO allies and the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, respectively. Any countries not within either the U.S. or Soviet sphere were referred to as the third world.

So maybe we should stop using outdated political terms to label our trivial complaints. It’s perfectly fine to complain, even if you know that someone else would be happy to be in your position. It’s not a big deal, and certainly doesn’t merit a snarky term like “first world problems.”

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Why I love jargon

The English language is in trouble. Instant and text messaging have turned the medium of Shakespeare into an appalling mess of acronyms, abbreviations, and emoticons. Still, there is hope, and it comes from America’s subcultures.

From hipsters to gangsters, subcultures are everywhere. Their members build a unique culture within the macro-culture of American society, and one of the ways they do it is through language. Having a separate culture means looking at the world differently from everyone else, and, consequently, describing it differently.

Every white suburban high school kid is familiar with the slang used by their favorite rappers, and teenagers of a different generation called un-cool things “square” to fit in with the beatniks.

However, this is nothing compared to the linguistic innovations of professional subcultures. The military has its own names for things: in the Navy, the floor (or ground) is the “deck” and walls are “bulkheads.” Truckers have their CB codes (“10-4,” etc.) as well as their own specific vocabulary: in CB slang, a snowplow is a “salt shaker.” The same is true of diners (“axle grease” is code for butter and a bottle of ketchup is a “lighthouse”).

I have even found job-specific jargon in my own workplace, an agency that serves people with disabilities. To make the place seem un-institutional, the people it serves are called “consumers,” putting them on the same level as the people lining up at Wal Mart.

By repurposing words to be more meaningful in their own specific context, professional subcultures are helping the English language evolve. Other groups seek to minimize the use of words in order to make communication faster, but, while on the job, information needs to be specific and instantly recognizable. That means giving words new uses (or even inventing new words) rather than abbreviating them.

That’s why jargon is so interesting: it demonstrates the entire process of language in microcosm. The purpose of language is to communicate with the rest of the world. People in the military, trucking industry, or health services could not adequately describe things from their perspective, so they expanded the language to make that possible.

The current, Internet-happy society views proper English as an impediment to the constant flow of information to every person. With the broader culture focusing on quality over quantity, it is up to the subcultures to keep the English language going.

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