Internet-related prefixes

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Internet-related prefixes such as e-, i-, cyber-, info-, techno- and net- are added to a wide range of existing words to describe new, Internet- or computer-related flavors of existing concepts, often electronic products and services that already have a non-electronic counterpart. The adjective virtual is often used in a similar manner.[1][2]

Cyber-, e-, i, and virtual[edit]


Cyber- is derived from "cybernetic," which comes from the Greek word κυβερνητικός meaning skilled in steering or governing. It is used in the terms cyberspace, cyberpunk, cybergoth, cyberlaw, cybercrime, cyberwarfare, cyberterrorism, cybersex, and cyberbullying, among others.


E-, standing for electronic, is used in the terms e-mail, e-commerce, e-business, e-banking and e-book.[1][3]


The i prefix was used as early as 1994 by iVillage, an internet community site by and for women.[4] More recent examples include the BBC's iPlayer, and Google's former iGoogle service. It has even been used by companies not in the IT sector for their websites, such as Coca-Cola's now-defunct

Apple Inc. is especially connected to the i prefix. They first employed it for the iMac line of computers starting in 1998,[5] and have since used it in many of their other product names, including iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iCloud, iMessage, and others. They have said it stands for "Internet".[6]


The word virtual is used in a similar way to the prefixes above, but it is an adjective instead of a prefix. For example, it is used in the terms virtual reality, virtual world, and virtual sex.

Linguistic behaviour[edit]

These prefixes are productive. Michael Quinion notes that most of these formations are nonce words that will never be seen again. He writes that new terms such as "e-health" are unneeded; in this case telemedicine already exists to describe the application of telecommunications to medicine. He similarly points out the redundancy of e-tail, e-commerce, and e-business.[3] Martin likewise characterizes many of these words as "fad words" and believes many will disappear once the technology that resulted in their coinage becomes better accepted and understood. For example, he writes, "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.'"[7]

Spelling controversies[edit]

There is some confusion over whether these prefixes should be hyphenated and/or in upper case. In the case of e-mail, it was originally hyphenated and lowercase in general usage, but the hyphen is no longer common.[8]

In 1999, Michael Quinion attributed the forms "email", "E-mail" and "Email" to uncertainty on the parts of newer Internet users.[3] In 2003, Ronald Smith prescribed that the e- should always be lowercase and hyphenated.[9] In 2013, the Associated Press Stylebook removed the hyphen from "e-mail", following the general usage of the word.[8]


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."

In 1966, the BBC Doctor Who serial The Tenth Planet introduced a monster called cybermen.

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.[10]

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."[2][11]


  1. ^ a b Joseph Straubhaar and Robert LaRose (2004). Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. Thomson Learning. p. 6. ISBN 7-302-09576-0. 
  2. ^ a b Paul McFedries (2004-07-30). "The (Pre) Fix Is In". IEEE Spectrum. 
  3. ^ a b c Michael Quinion (1999-01-16). "THE E- netcsPREFIX". World Wide Words. 
  4. ^ "The Most Influential Women in Technology 2010 - Tina Sharkey". Fast Company. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Vaughn, Paul, "The Mac Guy: Potential buyer wants big sound, and he can have it," April 21, 2007 at
  6. ^ Manjoo, Farhad, "Grads Want to Study on EMacs, Too," April 30, 2002,
  7. ^ Rodney Martin (2004). Young Writers Guide. Era Publications. p. 150. ISBN 1-74120-040-7. 
  8. ^ a b "AP Removes Hyphen From 'Email' In Style Guide". Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Constance Hale and Jessie Scanlon (1999). Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. New York: Broadway Books. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. 

External links[edit]