Cyberslackers beware, the Oxford Dictionary sees you

If you spend half your day surfing the Web rather than working, your boss can probably think of a few words to call you but here's one that might be new to them: cyberslacker. It's one of over 100 IT-inspired or related words that have made their way into the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English for the first time.

The new words point to the continuing and increasing importance of technology in everyday life as words and acronyms that might once have been considered obscure are now becoming common enough for them to get an entry in the dictionary.

Acronyms like IMAP (Internet Mail Access Protocol), DNS (Domain Name System) and CGI (Common Gateway Interface) are in the new dictionary alongside words like script kiddie, for "a person who uses existing computer scripts or codes to hack into computers, lacking the expertise to write their own," and open-source, for "denoting software for which the original source code is made freely available." Cyberslacker is defined as "a person who uses their employer's Internet and e-mail facilities for personal activities during working hours."

The new entries point to more than just the effect that technology is continuing to have on the English language. They also demonstrate the speed with which new words are surpassed by even newer words.

Take for example the noun "surfing,' which is defined as "the activity of moving from site to site on the Internet." That didn't make it into the previous edition of the dictionary, published in 1998, and is new this time, but also making an appearance for the first time is a couple of newer and more specific words relating to using the web.

There's "egosurf," which is to "search the Internet for instances of one's own name or links to one's own website," and the verb "google," which the dictionary defines as to "search for the name of (someone) on the Internet to find out information about them."

The cellular telephone is also leaving its mark on the English language, mostly in the form of new acronyms.

3G, for third generation wireless; GPRS, for General Packet Radio Service; MMS, for Multimedia Messaging Service; SIM, for Subscriber Identification Module; SMS, Short Messaging Service; UMTS, for Universal Mobile Telephone System; and WAP, for Wireless Application Protocol; all made it into the dictionary in addition to I-mode, roaming, ringtone and hands-free.

Some networking standards have also become common enough to gain entries. Bluetooth, FireWire, USB and WiFi are all included although the official designations, such as IEEE802.15 in the case of Bluetooth, are too much of a mouthful to have entered common usage.

That information technology is providing new words is probably not surprising. Back in 1998 the Internet was estimated to have around 150 million [m] users and around double that number of people had cellular telephones. Over the following four years the number of Internet users is estimated to have grown to around 650 million [m] and the number of cellular users to have surpassed 1 billion [b], virtually assuring a number of new words would enter common usage.

With the speed at which computing is progressing, it's perhaps not surprising that some words denoting future technologies are already making their way into English. Quantum bit and qubit, both from the world of quantum computing, are new as are neural computer and neurocomputer.

Here's a selection of some of the other new words:

  • Augmented reality, noun, a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

  • brochureware, noun, websites or web pages produced by converting a company's printed marketing or advertising material into an Internet format, typically providing little or no opportunity for interactive contact with prospective customers.

  • biometric signature, noun, the unique pattern of a bodily feature such as the retina, iris, or voice, encoded on an identity card and used for recognition and identification purpose.

  • clickstream, noun, a series of mouse clicks made by a user while accessing the Internet, especially as monitored to assess a person's interests for marketing purposes.

  • cyberstalking, noun, the repeated use of electronic communications to harass or frighten someone, for example by sending threatening emails.

  • cyberterrorism, noun, the politically motivated use of computers and information technology to cause severe disruption or widespread fear in society.

  • cybersquatting, noun, the practice of registering names, especially well-known company or brand names, as Internet domains, in the hope of reselling them at a profit.

  • digital divide, noun, the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not.

  • DoS, abbreviation for denial of service, denoting an interruption in an authorized user's access to a computer network, typically one caused with malicious intent.

  • killer app, noun, a feature, function, or application of a new technology or product which is presented as virtually indispensable or much superior to rival products.

  • meatspace, noun, the physical world, as opposed to cyberspace or a virtual environment.

  • mobo, noun, a motherboard.

  • overclock, verb, run (the processor of one's computer) at a speed higher than that intended by the manufacturers.

  • warchalking, noun, the practice of marking a series of symbols on walls and pavements to indicate the presence of a nearby wireless networking station that can be used to obtain illicit free access to the Internet.

  • weblog, noun, a personal website, on which an individual or group of users record opinions, links to other sites, etc. on a regular basis.

The Oxford Dictionary of English, second edition, is published by Oxford University Press and its ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is 0-19-861347-4. It costs £35 (US$55).

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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