Saturday, August 25, 2001

Word clusters

The productivity of language is, indeed, remarkable. The growth of the lexis is phenomenal by any standards. Scarcely does a neologism enter the vocabulary before many related words cluster around it, jostling for attention. At times, language and words seem to be like a large rabbit family, magically multiplying at the drop of a hat. Take, for instance, the word mouse a small hand-held device which is dragged across a flat surface to move the cursor on the computer screen. It is only recently that a majority of the Indians have become acquainted with it. A measure of the popularity of this word is the number of compound words it has produced: mouse-button, any of the keys on a mouse that allow one to enter commands, and adjectives such as mouse-driven and mouse-controlled. It has also given birth to an ailment: mouse wrist. Mouse wrist is the pain in the wrist caused by excessive or improper use of a computer mouse, especially after a long mouse session.

In fact, computers are responsible for many ailments, giving lots of neologisms to the language. Playing too many games on the computer can lead to nintendo thumb, which is a repetitive stress injury from the over-use of the thumb. A related illness is nintendo epilepsy, which gets triggered off by the neon lights of computer games. Tetwrist is another such injury brought on by playing computer games like Tetris. Text message injury is a repeated stress injury due to excessive use of the thumb to type out text messages on the keyboard or cell phone.

In the same vein
August 4, 2001
The cyber family
July 21, 2001
Italian friends
July 7, 2001
Random words
June 23, 2001
Mortal practices, immortal words
June 9, 2001
Passage of words
May 26, 2001
Traces of the past
May 12, 2001
April 28, 2001
Lost origins
April 14, 2001
Words and society
March 31, 2001
Origin of expressions
March 17, 2001
Varied origins
March 3, 2001

Lifestyle changes due to computers have given a whole new dimension to the vocabulary. Computer literacy led to computer-literate, computer-friendly individuals, and the words computerate, computeracy and computence were but a step away. Babble, the jargon characteristic of a group or subject, spawned ecobabble, eurobabble and psychobabble jargon related to environment, European Community and psychology, respectively. Now, we have technobabble in the area of computers. A new culture has emerged thumb culture pertaining to people who are skilled at using their thumbs to manipulate computer pointers, joysticks, cell phones and small keys on electronic devices. The thumb-cultured people often resort to DWY, or Driving While Yakking, or, better still, indulge in cell-yells, shouting into cell phones.

Google, a popular search engine, helps one seek information on the Internet. Where did the word google come from? The young nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner was asked what he would call a huge number consisting of the number one followed by one hundred zeros. He suggested a word that in a way resembles the number, since it contains several zeros. The word was google.


Sometime in the future, researchers are likely take a look at all cyber-words that took birth in this decade and may write a thesis on the society of the time. Language is the means of expression so it is quite natural that it will reflect human experience and thought, loud and clear. Looking at the Hindi of the Bhakti period, there is an absence of English inputs. Whereas there are enough words from Arabic, Persian and Turkish to show the influence of Muslim thought and culture during that period.

This feature was published on August 18, 2001