Recently, I was editing an article and ran across the word kindle. My cursor almost instinctively flew up to fix the obvious error; the word wasn’t misspelled, but everyone knows Kindle should be capitalized, right? Before I made the edit, I caught myself. For once, the word wasn’t referring to the wildly popular e-reader. It just meant “to light or set on fire” -- what kindle used to mean just about every time it was used, before Amazon decided to break into the e-book business in 2007.
Since 2007, I have seen the product name Kindle far more often than the word kindle. And that’s not the only useful, cool word we’ve seen corporatized and computerized beyond recognition. Twitter, yelp, yahoo -- we used to use all of these assemblages of letters to convey something other than “that Internet company.” Some of these tech-appropriated words, like mouse, are still commonly used for their original definition, but have become so overpowered by their tech meanings that we have to clarify in conversation that we're referring to a rodent, not a computer accessory. What an insult to all the mice out there who owned that word long before there was ever “a palm-sized, button-operated pointing device that can be used to move, select, activate, and change items on a computer screen.” And what about apple? People seem to eat enough apples that the original definition is still the first thing that pops to mind -- unless you're really into iPhones and Macbooks. But some words are not so fortunate -- the companies or products they brand have become far more ubiquitous than the word itself. When this happens, we immediately think of the company whenever we hear the word, and the original meaning becomes totally overshadowed.
I get why the tech industry has long harbored the impulse to repurpose words to brand startups and gadgets. The words are already comfortable to English speakers, and using a term that obliquely describes the actual product makes the name seem clever. For example, tinder refers to dry wood that’s used to start a fire; naming a dating app Tinder alludes subtly to the idea that the app makes it easy to spark something -- a relationship, not a fire. It’s a neat little play on the word tinder that lends itself well to media headlines, à la “Tinder app sparks new way to seek romance.” Great name, guys. But to be honest, I miss the days when I could hear tinder and think of dry wood, not a dating app. Tech companies are acquiring and redefining some of the loveliest words in the language, and we’re in danger of losing touch with what those words even mean. So let’s take them back.
Here are 7 fabulous words we need to reclaim from the tech world before it's too late:Kindle: “to start (a fire); cause (a flame, blaze, etc.) to begin burning.” Twitter: “to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.” Tinder: “dry material (such as wood or grass) that burns easily and can be used to start a fire.” Yelp: “to give a quick, sharp, shrill cry, as a dog or fox.” Yahoo: “a person who is very rude, loud, or stupid.” Adobe: “a type of brick made of a mixture of mud and straw that is dried by the sun.” Flicker: “to burn or glow in an unsteady way : to produce an unsteady light.”