The Departures Modern Glossary September 2011

Bendik Kaltenborn

Departures defines the terms that define us now.


A trademarked name for a technology that wirelessly connects disparate devices (computers, phones, etc.) over short distances

Usually, when a word’s etymology sounds too good to be true, it is. Though most of the fanciful stories out there are apocryphal (“tip” is not an acronym for “to insure promptness”; “posh” does not stand for “port outward, starboard home”), “Bluetooth” is that rare exception: It comes from the name of a tenth-century king, Harald Bluetooth, who united Norway and Denmark.


The Internet, especially its capacity for providing remote access to data previously stored on a personal computer

In some ways, we have been using the cloud for years (webmail, for instance). One could say that it’s just another term for the Internet, and to a certain extent that’s correct. But the cloud is really the future of computing, where all files, not just e-mail, will be stored online. Eventually, having a hard drive on your PC may be the equivalent of using a hand crank to start your car.


The increasing use of forms of mobile technology, such as smartphones, to facilitate public health

As cell phones have become more common in developing nations, they have enabled the remote diagnosis and treatment of individuals as well as larger-scale public health initiatives, like tracking the spread of a disease. “M-health” is an example not only of how technology is changing lives but also of a new trend in the creation of English vocabulary. In 1066, courtesy of the invading Norman army, we began adopting French words (like “beef” from bœuf), and 500 years later, we started taking terms straight from Latin, often adding an anglicized suffix (turning abbreviatum into “abbreviate”). Now, neologisms are increasingly being formed by adding a shortened prefix, such as i- (for Internet), e- (for electronic) or m- (for mobile), to an existing word.


A theory and practice based on the idea that children learn best in a relatively unstructured, ungraded educational environment

Many proponents of “unschooling,” a term from the late 1970s, have been influenced by educational philosopher John Holt, who thought children learned best when they chose their own course of study. The prefix un- has had two main functions for the past 800 years: It indicates negation or reversal. In this case, it remains to be seen which of the two will be more applicable.


Bullying committed via remote electronic means, such as texting, e-mail and postings on social media sites

Over the past few years, several widely reported cases of cyberbullying have exposed a phenomenon far more common than many had thought. The cyber- prefix, which comes from the ancient Greek for “steersman,” has attached itself to hundreds of words since the 1940s, when the term “cybernetics” arrived in English as the title of a book by mathematician Norbert Wiener.