Neologism nausea

i’ve been having some issues with a few neologisms that have hit the internet and blogosphere (ahem) lately. it’s not so much that new words bother me (although some, like nucular, most definitely do). i came to the realization today that it’s their origins that can bother me.

take AJAX as an example.

i’m not talking about the popular cleaning product that guarantees it will get your sink and tub pearly white with little to no elbow grease involved. no, i’m talking about the term coined by a notable person at a design firm in san francisco (name and link withheld to avoid unnecessary page rank bloat).

it was coined in an effort to describe a collection of technologies that have been around for a long time (in Internet years, at least). people have been using these technologies for a variety of things (google maps, for example; or even microsoft outlook web access), but they’ve done so without the comfort of a name to say what it was precisely that they were doing.

and so this design agency author made one up. it’s an acronym, although he avoided the dreaded TLA (three–letter acronym) that is the focus of so many consultant jokes. it’s also memorable. kinda catchy. almost sounds like marketing.

and that’s what it is. marketing.

ever since i first heard the term, it was bugging me. it bothered me that they made up a new term for something that already existed. it bugged me that it wasn’t, strictly speaking, technically correct. it bugged me in general, but i couldn’t figure out just why. and then i realized why: because they stood to benefit financially from the creation of a new term, something that could become a meme in the internet world. something that everyone would pick up and say, "AJAX? oh yeah! that firm in ___ ___ invented it!"

bzzzzt. wrong. they didn’t invent it. they just knew how to market it and their ability to explain it — intelligently and in a ready–for–publication way. i don’t fault them for their insight regarding the patterns of usage of this particular technology combination. what i do fault them for is shameless self–promotion. one might say that they were just pointing something out for the benefit of the internet community, humanizing a technology to help it be better understood. i’ve been in this business long enough to know that’s about as likely as a beautiful snowflake in the molten pits of hell.

the other term that caused me to get all twitchy was folksonomy. this is a conflation of “folks” and “taxonomy,” meaning a classification system created by normal people (e.g., not librarians or those prone to organizing their socks by color, then texture, then projected lifetime). think of it as the dewey decimal system for crackers (a harsh and not–wholly–accurate analogy, but work with me here).

the idea is a very important one, but the term is just silly. just call it tagging and be done with it, ok? why was there a need to come up with a cutesy term?

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if youre’ gonna come up with a new word for something, make sure your motives are pure. do it because there really needs to be a new word, in my opinion. otherwise, you just wind up looking like a linguistic poseur, and we all know how much everyone hates linguistic poseurs.