Posts filed under ‘Words’

Another dysphemistic retronym

Snail Mail“Snail mail” dates back to the days when bang paths were used for email (this search on Google Groups show examples of the use of “snail mail” that date back to January 1982).  As the Hacker’s Dictionary explains it:


Mail sent via the Postal Service rather than electronically,
sometimes written as one word:  SnailMail. At its worst, electronic mail usually arrives within half an hour. Compare that to the typical three days for SnailMail. If you ask a hacker for his mailing address, he will usually give you his network address for electronic mail. You have to say “What’s you SnailMail address?” if you want to send him a package.

“Snail mail” is both a dysphemism and a retronym. It’s “dysphemistic” because it’s a disparaging expression, and its a retronym because the advent of email meant we needed a term that emphasizes old school mail.   Other retronyms include “acoustic guitar” (needed since the invention of the electric version), “film camera” (the pre-digital version), and “World War I” (before the start of WWII). as well as “first wife” (don’t know who came up with that).

Snail PrintI recently send some email to a couple of friends, telling them about a story I had read in a newspaper someone had left in a restaurant.  In the email, I sent them a link to the online version of the story, and as I began to explain how I found the story, I realized I needed a way to refer to the printed newspaper version.   Since it’s almost embarrassing nowadays to read newspapers (why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?), I called it the snail print version.   After I sent the email, I got curious about how common the term “snail print” was in this era in which a week doesn’t go by without the newspaper industry reporting a layoff or a loss of advertising revenue due to the Internet.

My Internet searches for “snail print” were unsuccessful.  Does that mean no one else has ever called the old school version of news the “snail print” version?  I like “snail print” and plan on using it in the future, but  I am curious whether there’s another term with the same connotations.  Any ideas?


August 30, 2009 at 8:49 am 1 comment

Internet terms in French

Word of the WeekThis week’s Canadian French Word of the Week (podcast here) is actually several words, all Internet-related.

  • Naviguer sur/dans Internet: To surf the Web
  • Fureteur: Browser
  • Courriel: Email (made up of a cross between courrier, mail, and électronique, electronic)
  • Pourriel: Spam (a portmanteau of poubelle, garbage can, and courriel, email)
  • Clavarder: To chat (online)
  • Bavarder: To chat (anywhere, not just online)

The podcast is a repeat which predates Twitter, so I’m wondering what the French word is for “tweet“?

March 30, 2009 at 10:40 am Leave a comment


Obama Pumpkin 2008Apparently “pumpkinification” is a word, one with a meaning that is impossible to guess if you’re as ignorant as I am of the history of the Roman Empire.  “Pumpkinification” is a satire of someone otherwise undergoing an elevation to divine status (i.e. undergoing an apotheosis).  “Pumpkinification” is the English translation of the first word in the title of the book Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii, written by Seneca the Younger that satirizes the Roman emperor Claudius I.    Pumpkinification’s obscure meaning only makes sense if you known an ancient language or two, since “apocolocyntosis” is a play on the word “apotheosis.”

So I guess SNL was engaging in Obama pumpkinification back when Hillary supporters seem to dominate SNL and Tina Fey made her “Bitches get stuff done” comment.

January 20, 2009 at 4:09 am Leave a comment


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