May 30, 1999 - Slangman: Techno-Slang

INTRO: This week our Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble get a crash course on the growing links between computer words and everyday speech.

Cd: "Make a Circuit with Me"/Polecats

AA: Computers are everywhere these days -- and so is computer lingo. Some words are adapted from everyday speech.

RS: But this language circuit flows both ways. Everyday speech is also beginning to buzz with words from the computer world -- for instance, "multitasking."

AA: For an explanation, we turn to our expert on slang, David Burke in Los Angeles.


"'Multitasking' simply means for a computer to be able to operate several programs at the same time, which was a real innovation in the computer world. But people are starting to use that more and more in everyday speech. They'll say something like, if you can do the laundry, Make phone calls and take care of business at the same time, you're multitasking."

SFX -- computer sounds

RS: But what if your computer is sick.

AA: Rosanne, it feels awfully warm. . .

RS: Oh no -- maybe it has a virus!


"I can remember when that first came out, I was thinking, how can a computer catch a virus. Well, a virus of course is now some program that is snuck into your computer by the internet. Often times when you go to a web site, automatically information is put into your computer from that web site and this little virus can attack your computer and actually change programs and ruin your computer.

AA: While the word "virus" has gone high-tech, David Burke says some people use computer jargon to describe a system problem of a different nature.


"You'e heard the expressions to 'download' and to 'upload'. Well, teen-agers are now using the term upload. For example, they'll say something like, 'I ate so much I feel like I'm going to upload. '

RS: Meaning to throw up! but when a computer uploads, that means it sends a file to another computer. Downloading is the reverse; it means to bring a file into your computer.

AA: Computer language is even influencing what people call the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. David Burke says people increasingly say "dot" instead of "period." After all, you don't say period-com, you say dot-com in giving the address for a commercial web site.


"Now the term dot is also being used in secretarial schools. Instead of saying period when you read back a paragraph, you'll say dot. I first heard it in the computer world."

RS: As we said, it goes both ways. Take the word "surfing." David Burke traces its evolution, starting with the traditional meaning.


BURKE: "To surf, well of course that's just surfing on a wave. Before computers I would hear the expression 'to channel surf. ' Now you know what that means.

AA: "To graze across the TV channels."

RS: "To take your remote clicker and go across all the channels."

BURKE: "Right, you're channel surfing. Well, now we have 'surfing the web,' which is kind of an interesting visual because you picture a big spider web and someone surfing across it. But surfing the web is incredibly popular, that's a kind of term that really everybody knows, not just a computer geek -- ah, another slang term."

AA: 'We should point out, the web being the World Wide Web, the www part of the internet that carries pictures and sound and files."

BURKE: "And the reason they call it the Web is because if one part of the web breaks down, your e-mail can always get through because it's rerouted to another part of the web."

AA: You can use your modem to visit David Burke on the internet, at You can find more information about the terms he used today, and also learn about the language books that David writes. Again, the address is

RS: And our address if you'd like to send us e-mail is word@VOA. Gov, or write us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20547 USA.

AA: With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.