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Learning the Lingo of the Electronic Age

Learning the Lingo of the Electronic Age
By Reid Goldsborough

As if the world of computers and the Internet isn’t difficult enough, it also comes with its own vocabulary. Just as with any other field, you can’t walk the walk unless you talk the talk.

Acronyms, jargon and buzzwords serve several purposes. They condense complicated concepts into shorthand words and phrases, saving time. They help separate the insiders from the outsiders. And they can confuse the heck out of you.

If you’re a “newbie” and want to become a “digerati,” you’ve got to learn the lingo. Fortunately, help can be either a click or an arm’s length away.

NetLingo is both a Web site and a just-published 528-page book. Created by Erin Jansen and Vincent James, both resources provide definitions of more than 3,000 modern technology terms, including 1,200 SMS (“short message service”) acronyms.

Co-author Jansen has been around the cyberblock a few times. She’s been an Internet consultant since 1994, building and promoting Web sites for clients in the United States, Great Britain, Germany and France. Among the sites she’s worked with are CNET, and

I asked Jansen what she regards as the most important terms to know in the Information Age. Here’s what she came up with:


E-mail is the “killer app” of the Internet, the single most widely used and indispensable tool. Its nemesis is “spam” (the name comes from a Monty Python movie), also called “unsolicited commercial e-mail” (UCE).

Spam gunks up people’s “in-boxes.” Variations of spam include “meatloaf” — unsolicited personal e-mail, “velveeta” — excessive cross-postings in Usenet discussion groups, “fram” — spam sent to friends and family, and “SPIM” — spam sent by “instant messaging” or IM.


Every time you’re connected to the Internet, you’re “downloading,” or transferring data from a “remote” computer to your “local” computer.

This applies, among many things, to MP3 songs. MP3 is short for “MPEG-1, audio layer 3,” and MPEG in turn is short for “Motion Picture Experts Group,” which is the standards body that created this file format.

MP3 makes sharing music over the Internet efficient and controversial, since there’s now less incentive to buy music, which has caused music CD sales to drop along with music industry revenue.


When you see a checkbox on a Web page that says, “send me info about such and such,” which often involves receiving advertising via e-mail, you can choose to “opt-in” by checking it. Sometimes Web sites are a little too crafty and check the box for you, which requires you to “opt-out” by unchecking it if you don’t want the mailings.

Conscientious Web sites require a “double opt-in” in which you have to confirm by e-mail that you’ve agreed to receive the mailings. This prevents people from signing others up for unwanted mailings. If you opt-in and later change your mind, you’ll have to “unsubscribe,” following the directions given.

Acronyms & Smileys

Acronyms are abbreviations derived from the first letters of a term or phrase, and they’re popular online because it’s quicker to type them. Many “netizens” also find it just plain cool to communicate in a lingo that not everyone understands.

Here are the most common ones: TMI for Too much information, NRN for No reply necessary, TWIMC for To Whom It May Concern, EOM for End of message, BRB for Be right back, BTW for By the way, ROTFL for Rolling on the floor laughing, LOL for Lots of love (or luck or laughter), and POS for Parent over shoulder. “Smileys,” also known as “emoticons” because they’re symbols representing emotions or facial expressions, help prevent misunderstandings.


Many Internet neologisms begin with the letter “E,” which stands for “electronic,” and perhaps the most important of these is “e-commerce.” “B2B” (business-to-business e-commerce) is bigger than “B2C” (business-to-consumer e-commerce). Many individuals are engaging in e-commerce through online auctions on eBay.


Other Internet neologisms begin with “cyber,” which originated with the word “cybernetics,” the study of communication systems. “Cyberterrorism” encompasses any criminal attempt to disrupt computers or communicate terrorist plans via the Internet.

When a “hacker” brings down a Web site through a “denial of service” (DoS) attack or when someone writes or deliberately spreads a “virus,” “worm,” or other “malicious code,” they’re engaged in cyberterrorism.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or

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