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Alaskan Range: Dangle Dongel

Wordsman Greg Hill ventures into the world of nerkles, nerds and LolCats.

Does your dongle dangle? It’s OK if it does, according to BusinessDictionary.com, who states that while a “dongle” was “originally slang for a plug-in module to protect software,” now the term is used for any small module that plugs in and sticks out of a socket; for example, USB flash memory drives.” “If it uses a very short cable,” BusinessDictionary.com adds, “it may still be called a dongle.”

I encountered” dongle” in a list of “tech-inspired words” in a Silicon.com article by Natasha Lomas titled “From Lolcat to Textspeak: How Technology Is Shaping Our Language.” The list contains about as many slang expressions as more directly tech-derived words. For every “dongle,” “email,” and “user-generated content,” there’s a “pwned” (“Owned, dominated; Perfectly Owned”), “yarly” (“Yeah, really”), and “LOL” (“Laughing Out Loud”). The article admits that other sources, such as politics, finance, musicians, and the sciences regularly churn out new expressions, but Lomas quotes John Simpson, senior editor for the Oxford English Dictionary stating that technology currently produces far more “because of the increasingly pervasive role technology plays in our lives … Digital technology is one of the main motivating forces behind new vocabulary.”

Lomas goes on to note that “the pace of change enabled by technology” generates new words, especially slang, because of “the presence of large numbers of young people in the digital sphere.” From time immemorial young adults have embraced new forms of expression to agitate their parents, and today they’re “keen to cleave that divide even deeper by cleaving new slang.”

What sort of youngsters are creating the current slang: nerds or geeks? I turned to “Geek Vs Nerd,” an article authored by geeks for MastersInIt.org, a website that “ranks and reviews masters programs in information technology.” They say “nerd” originated with Dr. Seuss, who wrote in 1954 “A nerkle, a nerd, and a seersucker, too,” while “geek” “gained popularity in the circus. Circus performers that performed amazing feats were Geeks.”

Nerd traits include “extreme interest in academics,” “introverted,” “and “socially inept,” but geeks are “early adopters” of new technology, “fans of gadgets,” and possess “a specific niche interest/lifestyle that they have become the expert on.” They somehow overlook the fact that circus geeks were the lowest of the low, being paid to shock customers by biting the heads off live chickens and other loathsome acts.

A geek doubtlessly created CAPTCHA, the program that makes words wavy, runs line through them, and otherwise obscures them, “to prevent automated access to a system by computer programs, or ‘bots’.” Bad geeks create software robots, shortened to “bots,” that search the Internet for data, like email addresses, bank accounts, etc., that it can “harvest” and sell. CAPTCHA makes it difficult for the software to read the treated and repeat words and thereby gain access to secure sites.

A nerd came up with LolCats captions on June 14, 2006. That’s when Lolcat.com domain name was registered and people began posting photos of cats accompanied by humorous captions, hence “Laughing Out Loud Cats.” This site, and its manifold copiers, “paradies the grammar-poor patois stereotypically attributed to Internet slang.” An amusing photo of a cat in a refrigerator, for instance, includes the caption “IM IN UR FRIDGE EATIN UR FOODZ,” and one of a girl cuddling her cat reads “I HAS U BABE.” Then there’s the CatsThatLookLikeHitler.com photo site, and others for cats that look like Stalin, demons, lions, tigers, and even the glowering actor Ron Swanson, and heavily-mustachioed actor Wilford Brimley.

Photos of cutely-posed kitties are endemic on the Internet, and some of the Lolcats are pretty funny if cute kitties don’t bring on a gag reflex. I prefer exploring for ever more fascinating words long hidden in our common language. “Dongle” soon led to “dingle,” “a small wooded valley; a dell,” a low-lying place where something can be “daggled,” that is “dragged or trailed through mud, water, etc. And we just added 96 new Ethernet ports at Noel Wien Library for patrons to plug their personal computers into for secure connections. So now more dongles can dangle there than ever before.


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