Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hypocorism - pet name or term of endearment (or lack thereof)

Courtesy of the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day, I just learned that hypocorism is a linguist's term for pet names, including "baby talk", and endearing terms. I would include nicknames and terms of lack of endearment. Traditionally that is in the personal sense, but pet names and nicknames are all too common in computing technology and other fields. Common enough that glossaries and term definitions should include them to be able to more completely capture all references to an entity, concept, term, or topic. I would include jargon, techspeak, euphemisms, and "hacker slang" as well. A key criteria is that the term have a relatively widespread usage as opposed to being used by only a very small and unknown group or single individual for their local environment.

Some common examples from computing:

  • Big Blue - IBM
  • Redmond - Microsoft
  • Mr. Softie - Microsoft
  • Microsloth - Microsoft
  • Windoze - Microsoft Windows
  • net - Internet and sometimes World Wide Web
  • web - World Wide Web
  • PC - personal computer that primarily runs the Windows operating system
  • Mac - personal computer that primarily runs the Apple Macintosh operating system
  • app - software application
  • Googleplex - the headquarters of Google
  • bare metal - a computer without an operating system
  • bit bucket - mythical destination of and euphemism for data that has been lost and destroyed

In fact, it might be interesting or amusing to have a glossary consisting only of hypocorisms in computing. There is in fact something called The Jargon Lexicon, but it is a more narrow collection of terms used primarily by "hackers."

I am not yet comfortable with using this relatively unknown 10-gallon term for such a simple concept. For now, I may stick with nickname as my preferred sobriquet for hypocorism.

Note that there should be a semantic distinction between alternate names, synonyms, acronyms, and nicknames. Another key aspect of a nickname is that its usage is quite informal.

-- Jack Krupansky


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