The Departures Modern Glossary May 2011

Bendik Kaltenborn

Departures defines the terms that are redefining the way we speak now.


The use of computer crimes in facilitating a form of political activism

The word “hacktivism” has been in use since the late 1990s, and the related term “hacktivist” is even older, making its appearance in 1995. Although the word has existed since shortly after computer hacking entered public consciousness, “hacktivism” has enjoyed a remarkable burst of popularity with the recent interest in WikiLeaks, an organization that some feel is criminal and most agree is activist.

Flash Crash

A large and seemingly inexplicable decline in the stock market occurring over an extremely short period of time

On May 6, 2010, the stock market fell about 700 points in a matter of minutes before largely recovering, in what soon came to be known as “the flash crash.” Since then, there have been reports of other, less dramatic flash crashes. It’s unclear whether it’s simply the reduplicative nature of the phrase that appeals to us (much as “zoot suit” or “hurly-burly” does), or whether it is the phrase’s usefulness that gives it traction.


The outsourcing of work to a large group of unpaid volunteers or low-paid freelancers, usually addressing a specific task; also, the solicitation of comments or advice from a group

Though “crowdsourcing” is of relatively recent vintage—writer Jeff Howe was one of the first to put it in print, in a 2006 Wired article on its use for projects like gathering stock photography, developing TV shows and building Wikipedia—the practice is considerably older. One example is the Oxford English Dictionary: The first edition, released in bits and pieces between 1884 and 1928, relied on an army of unpaid crowdsourcers, recruited through advertisements, to compile the nearly 2.5 million literary citations that comprise the bulk of it.


The practice of substituting numbers or symbols for letters, especially in Internet chat

“L33tsp3@k” is an example of leetspeak. Considering that some, i.e., almost anyone over 30, view examples of leetspeak, such as “n00b” (for newbie) or “w00t” (to express glee), as irrefutable evidence of a generational decline in morals and intellect, it is amusing to note that “leet” comes from “elite.” It was developed by “elites” (in a chatroom or online gaming) to communicate over the heads of n00bs or to encrypt discussions of hacking.


The online posting of short entries frequently dealing with the events of one’s day

This practice, which includes Facebook status updates, tweets and Tumblr entries, has grown in popularity with the increased availability of smart phones—and the decrease in stigma attached to sharing one’s personal life with the entire world. The term is a fine example of a mule word, with roots in more than one distinct language: “Micro” comes from ancient Greek, and “blog” is a combination of “web” and “log,” two words with Old English origins.