August 17, 1998 6:15 PM PDT

Oxford dictionary adds Net terms

Spam. Gates. Digerati. Infobahn.

Those words are part of most tech-savvy Netizens' everyday vocabulary. But until now, they weren't considered to be official words. In fact, "spam," "digerati," and so on aren't even recognized in the Windows or Macintosh dictionaries.

That is about to change, as Internet-related words and phrases enter the official bible of the English language.

The latest edition of the New Oxford Dictionary of English, which was published simultaneously on America Online U.K. and in print, includes definitions for a slew of computer terms and phrases--and the richest man in the world.

Bill Gates has been honored with his own definition: "American computer entrepreneur; full name William Henry Gates. He cofounded the computer software company Microsoft and became the youngest multibillionaire in American history."

Even the influx of email is reshaping the English language. You won't find the emotion sign ";-)" in the dictionary, but you will find a definition for "emoticon": "a representation of a facial expression such as a smile or frown, formed by various combinations of keyboard characters and used in electronic communications to convey the writer's feelings or intended tone."

Another popular email term, "LOL," is defined as an "abbreviation for laughing (or laugh) out loud (used in email)."

But not every computer-related word in the dictionary is humorous, at least not to John Mozena, a board member of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. He says the inclusion of "spam" in the New Oxford Dictionary of English underscores the degree to which junk email has become an inevitable part of the Internet experience.

"It's sort of unfortunate that we've gotten this far," said Mozena. "The fount of all things English is now taking notice of spam--and it's not Hormel we're talking about."

For the record, the first definition given for "spam" is: "trademark, a tinned meat product made mainly from ham." The second definition is: "irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users." Spam is also defined as a verb: "send the same message indiscriminately to (large numbers of newsgroups or users) on the Internet."

"I guess it's official," added Mozena. "Spam is now officially not just for breakfast anymore."

A mouse also isn't just a rodent anymore. The term "mouse" brings up three computer-related terms. A "flying mouse" is: "Computing, a mouse that can be lifted from the desk and used in three dimensions."

A "mouse potato" is: "informal, a person who spends large amounts of leisure or working time operating a computer."

And, of course, the mouse used by most PC users: "Computing, a small handheld device which is dragged across a flat surface to move the cursor on a computer screen, typically having buttons which are pressed to control computer functions."

Other computer-related words and phrases making the dictionary include the following:

  • Applet: A very small application, especially a utility program performing one or a few simple functions.

  • Bloatware: Informal, software whose usefulness is reduced because of the excessive memory it requires.

  • Cypherpunk: A person who uses encryption when accessing a computer network in order to ensure privacy, especially from government authorities.

  • Digerati: People with expertise or professional involvement in information technology.

  • Geek: A knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast; a computer geek.

  • Hunt and peck: Denoting or using an inexpert form of typing in which only one or two fingers are used; hunt-and-peck computer users.

  • Infobahn: A high-speed computer network, especially the Internet.

  • Palmtop: A computer small and light enough to be held in one hand.

  • Phreaking: The action of hacking into telecommunications systems, especially to obtain free calls.

  • Snail mail: The ordinary postal system as opposed to electronic mail.

    The dictionary has been updated before but has never received such an extensive overhaul. Previous updates have added new terms, but the text of original volumes has not changed since they were published in 1928.

    The revised dictionary is scheduled to be completely reedited for publishing in 2010.

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