The Departures Modern Glossary January 2012

Bendik Kaltenborn

Words that define us now.


An expression of embarrassment, chagrin, annoyance or exasperation, evidenced by placing one’s face in one’s palm.

Although it’s likely that people have been facepalming since time immemorial, the practice has only recently been guaranteed a place in history—as an Internet meme. “Facepalm” has quickly shown an admirable shape-changing ability: It already functions as a verb (see above), a noun (“You totally deserved that facepalm”) and an exclamation (“When I saw his tie, I thought ‘facepalm!’”).


A program designed to distinguish people from spam-happy computers, usually by requiring users to type text into a box.

“Captcha” is actually an acronym of “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart,” a program developed in 2000 by researchers at Carnegie Mellon. One theory (okay, my theory) is that it works by measuring the aggravation levels of the computer user struggling to read the swirly text he’s supposed to type—such rage could never be felt by a machine.

Data Snacking

The ingestion of small bits of information via electronic means.

Before you climb up on your hobby horse and compose a screed about how kids these days, with their constant checking and tapping of little screens, don’t appreciate how life should be lived, reflect on the fact that though you may be right, you will also sound eerily similar to your forebears, who made such complaints about the horseless carriage, the player piano, the wireless radio and so on. One could even argue that books were the original vehicle for data snacking, insofar as they could be picked up and browsed through for any length at any point.


A prefix, often part of trademarked Apple product names, suggestive of the Internet.

Apple’s use of i- began with the iMac in 1998. It was meant to suggest the Internet (and the purported ease of accessing it with the iMac), as well as words like “instruct,” “inspire” and “individual.” In fact, this is just one in a long line of i-’s going back to Middle English, when it was added to verbs to create the past-participle form, as in i-horyed, which means “made foul or polluted.”


A season of grass-roots political revolt.

Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are not the first places to have a period of political upheaval associated with the word “Spring,” a term that has been used in an allusive sense, referring to renewal or a reawakening, for quite some time. For example, there was the Prague Spring in 1968, a brief attempt at democratic reform in what was then Czechoslovakia. The Prague and Arab Springs have another thing in common: Both began in the dead of winter.