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When "e" Was Just a Letter.

Not too long ago, the letter "e" was just another vowel.

True, it was a key vowel--the one bought first on "Wheel of Fortune" and most prevalent in games of Scrabble(r)--but it hadn't yet gained standalone prefix status. The birth of the new economy, spawning words such as e-commerce, e-tail, and e-company, changed all that, along with a lot of other things about the English language. It's now perfectly acceptable to lowercase a company name, for example, and to create words out of acronyms. Our new culture has minted words and phraseology, like "webification" and "burn rate," and irrevocably altered the very definition of others, loading up terms such as "high-bandwidth" and "rapid growth" with new meaning.

But these Webster gonnabes seem simple, obvious, and downright dull when compared with some of the more innovative lingo and terminology coined by the tech community. As business editors, we at CE are ever admiring the inventive dialect of Silicon Valley wordsmiths, whose ingenuity and humor introduced mainstream nouns like vaporware (much-hyped, but never available software) and coasterware (software so useless it remains shrinkwrapped).

Pervasive usage has also made common such gems as "spaghetti code" (software with coding so tangled and confusing it's impossible to follow) and "losing our virginity" (giving up company equity in exchange for funding for the first time).

Equally clever, albeit not as entrenched in everyday use, are phrases such as "mystery house" (a startup company with no discernible product or revenue source), "nerd birds" (weekday direct flights shuttling engineers and programmers between tech hotbeds Austin, TX, and San Jose, CA) and "prairie dogging" (when an office outburst or event prompts workers to stand on tiptoes or chairs to peer over partitions). An informal Valley word watch--we basically asked everyone we know for contributions--turned up more contenders, including "lasagna syndrome," or software with too many overlapping dialog boxes, and "PEBCAK" (Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard), a diagnostic term coined by tech support folk to refer to inept users.

An incompetent coworker leaving--with some encouragement--for a competing company is a "torpedo." And "legacy media," of course, refers to "old" or non-interactive media, such as newspapers, television, radio, and magazines--many of which are now getting makeovers by multi-media empires looking to bring old-line business online (see "Building Mega-Media," p. 14).

"Click," once merely a small noise, is now part of a new business strategy, as corporate marketers increasingly rely on "click-through rates" for Web advertising to determine how well their campaigns are faring (see "Branding the Web," p. 32). The term "B2B e-marketplaces," which would once have seemed an egregious typo, now conjures up an entirely new field of play for collaborative, or "coopetitive," businesses (see "The B2B Debate: Private vs. Public," page 36).

Just as there's seemingly no end to the numbers of processes and products that can be digitized and virtualized, so too is the bounty of new descriptive vocabulary words potentially endless. And with in-commerce and v-commerce entering the fray, it looks like what happened to "e" is only the beginning.
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Title Annotation:new vocabulary
Author:PRINCE, C.J.
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Previous Article:A Feast for the Eyes.
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