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Internet-related prefixes include e-, i-, cyber-, info-, techno- and net-, which are prefixed to a wide range of existing words to form new, Internet-related flavors of existing concepts. Additionally the adjective virtual is often used in a similar manner.
Use and meanings
E-, standing for the word electronic, is used in the terms e-mail (electronic mail), e-commerce (electronic commerce), e-business ("electronic" business), e-banking (electronic banking) and e-book (electronic book). In this way its use (to describe what it follows as the electronic form of an otherwise pre-existing entity) is grammatically and contextually accurate.
Cyber- is a prefix derived from "cybernetic," which comes from the Greek adjective κυβερνητικός meaning skilled in steering or governing (Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon). It is used in the terms cybersex, cyberspace, cyberpunk, cyberhomes and cyberhate, but has been largely surpassed by e-. Cyber- also largely maintains semantic and contextual accuracy, in that cybernetic denotes control of speech and functional processes. To the extent that it is used in the computer or electronic context to denote control (typically electronic or remote) of the thing represented by the word it precedes, it is used accurately. For example, see cyborg under the History section of this article. To the extent that cyber- is used to describe entities existing (or events occurring) in cyberspace, its use is arguably accurate as well. However, the term cyberspace (one of the earliest and most widespread uses of the prefix cyber-) was itself one of the least semantically accurate uses, in that cyberspace is not actual space electronically or remotely controlled. Thus "virtual space" or "virtual universe" would have been a more semantically accurate term, although arguably lacking the existential connotation provided by cyberspace. This connotation gives the term a contextual accuracy and prevents its being lured astray by association with the popular term virtual world, which has a very different and semantically accurate meaning.
Virtual is correctly used in virtual reality, in that virtual reality simulates reality and in many ways approaches reality. The word virtual means "nearly," "almost" or "simulated." Thus the key to accurate use of virtual as an adjective is that the thing represented by the word virtual modifies must not be the actual or real version of itself. Virtual describes that which approaches or simulates. Virtual reality is not actual reality; hence the label is appropriate. But such erroneous uses as "virtual communication" (for electronic communication) are entirely inaccurate because electronic communication is actual communication; therefore, it is not virtual. It is e-communication. It can even be cyber-communication where typed information is converted to an audio format for the recipient, although arguably that would be e-communication with cyber-speech.
These prefixes are productive. In Straubhaar's and LaRose's words, they are "added to almost everything nowadays." Quinion notes that most of these formations are nonce words that will never be seen again. He observes that coinages such as "e-health" are unneeded, given that it is simply a coinage used to express the application of telecommunications to medicine, for which the name telemedicine already exists. He similarly points out the redundancy of e-tail with e-commerce and e-business. Martin likewise characterizes many of these words as "fad words" and opines that many of them may disappear once the technology that resulted in their coinage has become better accepted and understood. As an example, he opines that "when using computers becomes the standard way to do business, there will be no need to call it 'e-business' — it may be just 'business.'"
There is some confusion over whether these prefixes should be hyphenated or in upper case. In the atypical case of e-mail, CompuServe used Email (capitalized and with no hyphen) from 1981 to 1984 as the trade name for its electronic mail service, but the form of the term has since tended toward that of many other e- terms. Quinion notes that e-mail was originally hyphenated and lowercase, and attributes the forms email, "E-mail" and "Email" to uncertainty on the parts of newer Internet users who came across e-mail in the 1990s and were uncertain about whether the initial letter was an abbreviation or a prefix. Smith prescribes that the prefix e- should always be lowercase and hyphenated.
Other grammarians[who?], particularly descriptive (as opposed to prescriptive) grammarians, disagree. For decades, hyphens have been dropped from formerly hyphenated words. As the combined meanings become more commonplace and readily understood, the need for hyphens subsides. In 2007 alone, the Oxford English Dictionary dropped approximately 16,000 hyphens, acknowledging that such words and phrases as bumblebee, ice cream, pigeonhole, test tube and crybaby no longer required them. The hyphen's short shelf life (formerly shelf-life) is particularly notable in compound nouns, of which e-mail is an abbreviation. If anything, grammatical accuracy would arguably mandate an apostrophe (e'mail) and not a hyphen. But new apostrophes are rare, which may be a result of the widespread misunderstanding of their proper use.
Uses of "cyber"
There are various applications of the term/prefix "cyber-" and this section documents its broad, confusing, and sometimes inaccurate use:
cyber-alert, cyber-bully, cybercafé, cyber-chase, cybercrime, cyber-dating, cyber fraud, cybergoth, cyberhate, cyberhomes, cyber nationalism, cyber law, cyber light, cybernetics, cyberpilgrimage, cyberpower, cyberpunk, cyber racism, cyber-safe, cyber-safety, cybersecurity, cybersex, cyberspace, cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare.
The term 'cybernetics' was used in Norbert Wiener's book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (MIT Press, 1948). Wiener used the term in reference to the control of complex systems in the animal world and in mechanical networks, in particular self-regulating control systems. By 1960, doctors were performing research into surgically or mechanically augmenting humans or animals to operate machinery in space, leading to the coining of the term "cyborg," for "cybernetic organism."
Fred J Cook (Winner of the 1961 Hillman Award) in his 1966 book "The Corrupted Land : The Social Morality of Modern America" introduces his book with "such ideals as free enterprise, 'rugged individualism' and laissez faire are anachronisms in this age of CYBERNATION."
By the 1970s, the Control Data Corporation (CDC) sold the "Cyber" range of supercomputers, establishing the word cyber- as synonymous with computing. Robert Trappl credits William Gibson and his novel Neuromancer with triggering a "cyber- prefix flood" in the 1980s.
McFedries observes that a backlash against the use of e- and cyber- can be traced to the late 1990s, quoting Hale and Scanlon requesting writers in 1999 to "resist the urge to use this vowel-as-cliché" when it comes to e- and calling cyber- "terminally overused."
i- is not a generic prefix used to describe a type of service or product; rather, it is used in the branding of individual products. The i- prefix is especially connected to Apple Inc., who employed it for their iMac and iBook and now uses many product names starting with i-, including iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iLife and others. Apple initially said the i stood for "Internet."
Despite its close association with Apple, the i- prefix has been used by other companies as well, such as Google (iGoogle) and the BBC (iPlayer). It has also been used extensively by shareware and freeware developers in the branding of their products, and even by non-IT companies for their online sites, such as icoke.com. iCarly is a television show in which the main character hosts her own web show. iClaudia was the name of a show played in 2008-2009 by Dutch comedian Claudia de Breij.
- Joseph Straubhaar and Robert LaRose (2004). Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. Thomson Learning. p. 6. ISBN 7-302-09576-0.
- Paul McFedries (2004-07-30). "The (Pre) Fix Is In". IEEE Spectrum.
- Michael Quinion (1999-01-16). "THE E- netcsPREFIX". World Wide Words.
- Rodney Martin (2004). Young Writers Guide. Era Publications. p. 150. ISBN 1-74120-040-7.
- Ronald D. Smith (2003). Becoming a Public Relations Writer: A Writing Process Workbook for the Profession. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 402. ISBN 0-8058-4260-8.
- Rabinovitch, Simon (21 September 2007). "Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on". Reuters. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
- Robert Trappl (February 1998). "Preface". 14th European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR'98), April 14 — 17, 1998 at the University of Vienna. Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies. ISBN 3 85206 139 3.
- Constance Hale and Jessie Scanlon (1999). Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. New York: Broadway Books.
- Vaughn, Paul, "The Mac Guy: Potential buyer wants big sound, and he can have it," April 21, 2007 at mysanantonio.com
- Manjoo, Farhad, "Grads Want to Study on EMacs, Too," April 30, 2002, wired.com
- Liedtke, Michael, "Google dubs personal home page 'iGoogle'," April 30, 2007, Associated Press, as available on msnbc.msn.com
- Deborah Schaffer (2001). "The story of e-". English Today (Cambridge University Press) 17 (4): 22–26. doi:10.1017/S0266078401004035. — Schaffer discusses e-, i- and several others.
- Geoffrey Nunberg (2001). "How The Web Was Won". The Way We Talk Now: Commentaries on Language and Culture. Houghton Mifflin Reference Books. pp. 187–188. ISBN 0-618-11603-6.
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