24 Words That Mean Totally Different Things Now Than They Did Pre-Internet

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24 Words That Mean Totally Different Things Now Than They Did Pre-Internet

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 Dictionary.com'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"...

Bump
Then: "to encounter something that is an obstacle or hindrance."

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."

Block
Then: "to be placed in front of something, such as a road or path, so that people or things cannot pass through."

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

Canoe
Then: "a long narrow boat that is pointed at both ends and that is moved by a paddle with one blade."

Now: "a Twitter conversation that has picked up too many usernames for an actual conversation to take place."

Catfish
Then: "a freshwater or marine fish with whiskerlike barbels around the mouth, typically bottom-dwelling."

Now: "a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes."

Cloud
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."

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."

Firehose
Then: "a large-diameter hose used in extinguishing fires."

Now: "a very large stream of data."

Footprint
Then: "a track or mark left by a foot or shoe."

Now: "a unique set of characteristics, actions, etc., that leave a trace and serve as a means of identification."

Friend
Then: "one attached to another by affection or esteem."

Now: "to add a person to one's list of contacts on a social-networking website."

Follow
Then: "to go or come after or behind someone or something; to pursue in an effort to overtake."

Now: "to subscribe to someone's updates on social media."

Handle
Then: "a part of something that is designed to be held by your hand."

Now: "your screen name; the name you go by on the Internet."

Like
Then: "to be suitable or agreeable to."

Now: "to indicate one's enjoyment of, agreement with, or interest in website content, especially in social media."

Meme
Then: "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture."

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."

Ping
Then: "a sharp sound like that of a striking bullet."

Now: "to make contact with someone by sending a brief electronic message, as a text message."

Profile
Then: "a representation of something in outline; a concise biographical sketch."

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

Sandbox
Then: "a low box filled with sand that children can play in."

Now: "an environment in which software developers or editors can create and test new content, separate from other content in the project."

Swipe
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."

Now: "to move the fingers across a touchscreen."

Tablet
Then: "a flat piece of stone, clay, or wood that has writing on it."

Now: "a general-purpose computer contained in a touchscreen panel."

Tag
Then: "to supply with an identifying marker or price; to attach as an addition."

Now: "to link to someone else's profile in a social media post, commonly a photo or status update."

Text
Then: "a book or other piece of writing; especially : one that is studied."

Now: "to send a text message."

Timeline
Then: "a table listing important events for successive years within a particular historical period."

Now: "a collection of online posts or updates associated with a specific social-media account, in reverse chronological order."

Troll
Then: "a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills."

Now: "a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people."

Tweet
Then: "a chirping note."

Now: "a very short message posted on the Twitter website."

Unplug
Then: "to disconnect something, such as a lamp or television from an electrical source or another device by removing its plug."

Now: "to refrain from using digital or electronic devices for a period of time."

Viral
Then: "of, relating to, or caused by a virus."

Now: "becoming very popular by circulating quickly from person to person, especially through the Internet."

© 2015 The Washington Post

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