What are they on about?

11th May 2001 at 01:00
David Newnham gets to grips with 21st century-speak

"Digimon!" shouted my four-year-old as he spun himself round and around on the carpet. So that's what they mean by "digital revolution". "Digi", it seems, is the new "turbo" - a self-adhesive tag that confers absolute modernity. You can achieve almost the same effect with "cyber", of course, or by appending a little "e" to words that need updating (eMail, eCommerce). Only in Yorkshire, where they've been saying "eByGum" for years, are folk unimpressed by this new-fangled talk.

Was it ever thus? Did our distant forebears stick "bronzo" on the front of everything so the world would think them bang up-to-date? If so, then the fad probably lasted for a century or so. Things moved slowly in the age of the ox.

In my lifetime, a dozen meaningless buzz words have already come and gone - meaningless in that the user generally understands nothing of the technology referred to (what is a turbo-charger, madam, and how might it relate to the "turbo" trainers in your window?). In Edison's day, electricity was reckoned to be a cure for everything from madness to aldness, and even when I was a kid, "electro" sold almost as well as sex.

After "electro" came "radio", and the sweet brown syrup that my mum fed me by the spoonful to put hairs on my chest (she never mentioned that hirsutism was about to drop out of fashion) was still called Radio Malt, even though the world was now glued to the television.

But by that time, we were in the atomic age anyway, and things were moving at super-sonic speed - fuelled, no doubt, by all that maltose pulsing through the post-war bloodstream. In quick succession there came a string of "onics", ranging from "electronic" and "stereophonic" through to "bionic". With technology now too complicated for anyone to understand, it seemed we couldn't resist bringing it into every conversation.

I'm not sure when super became maxi and maxi became mega, or even when mini became micro and micro became nano. But it seems safe to assume that historians will one day calibrate us by these subtle changes of affix, and that there will come a time when "digi" will seem as dated as the dodo.

Or as old-fangled as analogue monsters.


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