Language has continually always evolved naturally over time and these are some of the latest mutations
Language has continually always evolved naturally over time and these are some of the latest mutations

24 words that mean totally different things now than they did before the Internet

The reappropriation is rarely random; in most cases, the original meaning of the word is a metaphor for the new one

Caitlin Dewey@caitlindewey
Wednesday 23 December 2015 18:43

Technological change, as we know very well, tends to provoke linguistic and cultural change, too. It’s the reason why, several times a year, dictionaries trumpet the addition of new and typically very trendy words.

But more interesting than the new words, I think, are the old words that have gotten new meanings: words such as “cloud” and “tablet” and “catfish,” with very long pre-Internet histories. The reappropriation is rarely random; in most cases, the original meaning of the word is a metaphor for the new one. Our data is as remote as a cloud, for instance; catfish are just as tricky and unpredictable as an online love interest.

Anyway, this is all a very long way of saying that’s 20th birthday is more interesting than most: To mark the occasion, the online dictionary has compiled a list of words whose meanings have changed since it launched two decades ago. To that list, we have added a few tech terms of our own: such as “troll” and “firehose.”

On one hand, the list shows how technology has shaped language over time. But it also shows how language has shaped technology — or, at least, our technological understandings and paradigms. Think about a term such as “cloud”: the fact that we picked that to describe cloud computing says a whole lot about how we viewed that technology when it was brand-new. Don’t even get me started on words such as “sandbox” and “canoe”…


Then: “to encounter something that is an obstacle or hindrance.” (source)

Now: “to move an online post or thread to the top of the reverse chronological list by adding a new comment or post to the thread.” (source)


Then: “to be placed in front of something, such as a road or path, so that people or things cannot pass through.” (source)

Now: to prevent someone from contacting you on a social network like Twitter, or from viewing your profile. (source)


Then: “a long narrow boat that is pointed at both ends and that is moved by a paddle with one blade.” (source)

Now: “a Twitter conversation that has picked up too many usernames for an actual conversation to take place.” (source)


Then: “a freshwater or marine fish with whiskerlike barbels around the mouth, typically bottom-dwelling.” (source)

Now: “a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.” (source)


Then: “a visible mass of particles of condensed vapor (as water or ice) suspended in the atmosphere of a planet (as the earth) or moon.” (source)

Now: “any of several parts of the Internet that allow online processing and storage of documents and data as well as electronic access to software and other resources.” (source)


Then: “a large-diameter hose used in extinguishing fires.” (source)

Now: “a very large stream of data.” (source)


Then: “a track or mark left by a foot or shoe.” (source)

Now: “a unique set of characteristics, actions, etc., that leave a trace and serve as a means of identification.” (source)


Then: “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” (source)

Now: “to add a person to one’s list of contacts on a social-networking website.” (source)


Then: “to go or come after or behind someone or something; to pursue in an effort to overtake.” (source)

Now: to subscribe to someone’s updates on social media.


Then: “a part of something that is designed to be held by your hand.” (source)

Now: your screen name; the name you go by on the Internet. (source)


Then: “to be suitable or agreeable to.” (source)

Now: “to indicate one’s enjoyment of, agreement with, or interest in website content, especially in social media.” (source)


Then: “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” (source)

Now: “a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.” (source)


Then: “a sharp sound like that of a striking bullet.” (source)

Now: “to make contact with someone by sending a brief electronic message, as a text message.” (source)


Then: “a representation of something in outline; a concise biographical sketch.” (source)

Now: “the personal details, images, user statistics, social-media timeline, etc., that an individual creates and associates with a username or online account.” (source)


Then: “a low box filled with sand that children can play in.” (source)

Now: “an environment in which software developers or editors can create and test new content, separate from other content in the project.” (source)


Then: “a criticism or insult that is directed toward a particular person or group; a swinging movement of a person’s hand, an animal’s paw, etc.” (source)

Now: “to move the fingers across a touchscreen.” (source)


Then: “a flat piece of stone, clay, or wood that has writing on it.” (source)

Now: “a general-purpose computer contained in a touchscreen panel.” (source)


Then: “to supply with an identifying marker or price; to attach as an addition.” (source)

Now: to link to someone else’s profile in a social media post, commonly a photo or status update. (source)


Then: “a book or other piece of writing; especially : one that is studied.” (source)

Now: “to send a text message.” (source)


Then: “a table listing important events for successive years within a particular historical period.” (source)

Now: “a collection of online posts or updates associated with a specific social-media account, in reverse chronological order.” (source)


Then: “a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills.” (source)

Now: “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people.” (source)


Then: “a chirping note.” (source)

Now: “a very short message posted on the Twitter website.” (source)


Then: “to disconnect something, such as a lamp or television from an electrical source or another device by removing its plug.” (source)

Now: “to refrain from using digital or electronic devices for a period of time.” (source)


Then: “of, relating to, or caused by a virus.” (source)

Now: “becoming very popular by circulating quickly from person to person, especially through the Internet.” (source)

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