Aren’t words wonderful? Language is a brilliant thing and we have words for almost everything. The world is constantly changing and language evolves with it.
Every year that passes new words appear as part of our standard vocabulary to account for the changes in society and the great leaps and bounds of technology. We have seen some incredible bits of tech appearing over the decades and the words appearing to explain them. Some of those words even appear before the tech becomes mainstream.
You might be surprised to see when words first appeared in common usage or were first recorded as being used. We’ve been combing through Merriam-Webster’s archives to pick out the best and most interesting words in tech.
AAA Battery (1960)
Triple-A batteries are now fairly commonplace around the world. They’re used in everything from kid’s toys to remote controls. There are approximately three billion batteries sold in the United States each year.
Did you know though, that they’ve been around since the 1950s? Use quickly became more mainstream as they were used in popular cameras of the time and 1960 is the date of first recorded common use of this term.
Computer science (1961)
It is thought that the first computer was invented in around 1936 and the technology quickly came on during the war years as the allies employed early computers to decipher Nazi Germany’s enigma communications.
As the years passed, computer technology started becoming more mainstream to the point that “computer science” became a recognised term in the year 1961.
Biological warfare is thought to have been around for many years, with the first use dating back to the 6th century BC. In more recent years, especially following the gassings in the Great War, research into bioweaponry advanced greatly. Several countries looked to weaponise germs, bacteria and viruses in order to kill fellow human beings.
Nasty stuff. During and after the years of World War II, a lot of research was done into bioweapons to the point that the word was more widely used in 1962. Nearer the end of that decade, the Warsaw Pact introduced proposals to ban biological weapons and their production entirely.
From mass murder to safety. Improvements in car technology saw more widespread development and use of antilock braking systems in the automobile industry in 1963.
This new anti-skid technology prevents wheels from locking up during heavy braking and thus reduces the risk to occupants and people near the vehicle too. A brilliant system that’s still used today.
Mitochondrial DNA (1964)
Scientific research poking into the make-up of cells in living organisms discovered the existence of Mitochondrial DNA around this time. Mitochondrial DNA is seen as structures of cells and how they convert chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use.
Other types of DNA would be discovered and profile in the years that followed, but this was the first year Mitochondrial DNA was seen as a common term.
Television and computer technology was improving by this time, but it was actually space probe video and imagery that first spawned the use of the word pixel in 1965.
Footage captured of Mars and the Moon, was being analysed that year and Frederic C. Billingsley of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory described elements of those images referencing the pixels within it.
Idiot light (1966)
By the 1960s, cars were getting more intelligent and included more technology to help them run. Simple things like dashboard warnings lights were designed to help keep cars running happily and let motorists know when there were problems.
The term “idiot light” was coined this year to reference the oil warning light that would come on when a car wasn’t properly maintained.
Skype calls, Facetime and video calling is fairly commonplace in modern times, but did you know the first time the term “videoconferencing” was first used as a term was in 1967?
Experiments with video communication technology was actually happening as early as the 1920s. Interesting later uses included two-way radio and video links from manned space flights by NASA.
In the late 1960s, experiments were already being carried out with multi-user videoconferencing technology which would carry on in following years.
In the late 1960s, the television series Mission Impossible was a smash hit. Top-secret messages were famously set to self-destruct to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.
Other technology was also being developed in the real world to self-destruct for safety reasons. Space rockets, for example, were built with the ability to self-destruct if anything went wrong and human life was threatened as the result of a bad launch.
High-speed train technology was being considered and tested in these years. In 1968 American researchers considered using magnetically levitated transportation and worked on the concept for MagLev vehicles.
This technology essentially uses two sets of magnets to allow a train to float above the tracks. Without friction of rails, trains would, therefore, be able to move at a lot faster speeds.
The advent of the home computer and improvements in data storage technology saw the use of floppy disks in this year and beyond. The first disks were able to hold around 80 kilobytes of data. It was this term that was suddenly in common use in 1970.
The history of animatronics is fairly interesting and actually dates back many centuries. But it was during the 1960s that animatronics started being used in film with Walt Disney developing the technology. By 1971 it was in such common use that the term finally became recognised around the world.
Floppy disk (1972)
Shortly after the term Kilobyte was first properly coined, floppy disks were becoming more of a mainstay of storage technology. So much so that the humble disk would be the main data storage medium from this period until the 1990s.
Video game (1973)
The first video game appeared in 1958, but the video game industry didn’t start to take hold until the 1970s. By 1973, arcade machines were becoming more common and the first games console launched. It was in this year that the term “video game” was first recorded and things would only get better from then on.
Video games might have been taking hold and home computers were appearing too, but in 1974 people recognised that “computerphobes” existed too. Not everyone was a fan of new technology.
Adjusting to life with computers might have been hard for people at this time. A rising fear that computers would put them out of a job or at least complicate their working life left many feeling anxious about the new technology.
Debit card (1975)
Banks started issuing debit cards in around 1966 but it wasn’t until nearly a decade later that the use of these plastic payment tools became a common practice.
Cheques and cash payment would still be popular, but many people would come to rely on debit cards for easy payments around the world.
Floppy disk might have been the main form of data storage, but when it came to audio and music, there was a new kid on the block – cassette tape.
Microcassette also became popular when used in dictaphones and answering machines. The technology was first used in 1969 but it was in 1976 that the word microcassette was recorded in common use.
Radar Gun (1977)
The bane of speeding motorists everywhere – the Radar Gun. This device was developed during the years following World War II, but came into popular use by police forces in the late 1970s.
In 1977 the term radar gun was first recorded in reference to the hand-held tool used to track a car’s speed from the side of the road.
Logic bomb (1978)
Not to be confused with a real bomb or explosive device. A logic bomb is instead a piece of computer code that is maliciously inserted into software or computer programs and will carry out a certain unexpected function. Once launched, the logic bomb will do damage to the machine or network its installed on, wreaking havoc and mayhem. This is the age of the hacker and the start of headaches for governments and companies worldwide.
Laser printer (1979)
Daisy wheel printers were popular in the early years, but in the 1970s laser printers were introduced to the market. These high-quality printers were expensive initially, but would later become more affordable. By 1979 the term “laser printer” became a recognised word in the computing world.
Home video (1980)
In the era of VHS video cassette tape and Betamax, home video began growing in popularity. Camcorders allowed people to capture their own home movies – including recording growing families and fun and frolics in the home.
Boom box (1981)
The classic large portable radio cassette deck which quickly became associated with urban society in the United States was incredibly popular in the 1980s.
Large speakers, a convenient carry handle and blaring tunes appealed to many. Surprisingly, the first Boom box was technically invented by Philips in the 1960s, but it really became popular from 1981 onwards.
Text messaging (1982)
Text messaging was experimented with many years ago and in 1971 radio was used to send digital messages as an experiment. But the humble SMS text message system was actually first tested in the 1980s and this was the first time the term was recorded.
Cell phone (1983)
The first cell phone appeared in 1973 and technology quickly developed as these phones made their way to market. It wasn’t until a decade later that the first cell phone was commercially available but people quickly knew what the words meant and got excited about the technology.
In the 1980s computer technology was shrinking and suddenly becoming portable – brilliant news for business people who needed to access a computer while on the move. The term laptop was first recorded in common use in 1984.
Computerphobes might have been a thing a few years before, but by the mid-1980s people were keen on learning how to code computer programs themselves.
In 1985, the programming language C++ first appeared, became popular and went on the be a standardised language in the years that followed. Many future programming languages would be influenced by it as well.
Fax modem (1986)
The humble fax machine was proving popular in the workplace in the 1980s. Allowing the copying and sending of data across standard phone lines with ease. Sadly these machines are now long obsolete, but they were incredibly popular at the time.
Virtual reality (1987)
Virtual reality actually appeared as a concept decades ago. People were experimenting with experiences designed to enthral all the senses as early as the 1950s. VR devices were developed in the 1970s and onwards and the term was officially recognised in the late 1980s after the advent of the Power Glove – one of the earliest and most affordable VR devices.
It wasn’t until years later that virtual reality would get serious and move into people’s homes with the advent of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PSVR.
Cruise Control (1988)
Cruise control is actually a fairly old concept that dates back to the 17th century. It was used to control the speed of steam engines during those years.
In the car world, cruise control was used as earlier as 1900. Improvements in the technology saw it appearing in more and more vehicles in the years and decades that followed. By the late 1980s, many car owners could benefit from the joys of cruise control and the comfortable driving experience that offered.
High-capacity storage joy came in the form of the Minidisc player in the late 1980s. This new audio tech allowed people to store multiple albums on one disc and put them in a device small enough to fit in the pocket.
Compact Disc would prove more popular but Minidisc was still in popular use in 1989 and beyond.
Junk mail had been the bane of the home letterbox for decades. With the advent of the home computer and more and more people getting email addresses, spam started to rise.
Electronic junk mail filled our inboxes and bombarded everyone everywhere for years to come. The term was first recorded this year, no longer used to refer exclusively to canned meat but also to pestering for your credit card details for things you don’t need or want.
3-D printer (1991)
3-D printing is one of those things that’s been around for years, but was prohibitively expensive when it first arrived on the scene. 3-D printers were recognised as existing officially in 1991 and have come on in leaps and bounds since.
A new wave of hackers were looking to use their computer skills for good rather than evil. Hacktivism, also known as internet activism, became popular in the 1990s as people sought to use programming skills and technology to work towards social and political change. The movement was controversial but certainly got governments to sit up and listen.
The internet was the obvious next stop of commerce – with businesses being able to remotely sell goods and services to its customers nationally and internationally.
The history of E-commerce actually dates back to 1971 when students at Stanford University used ARPANET to sell cannabis. Years later various legitimate shopping systems appeared and after the first web browser was launched in 1990, the potential for E-commerce became a reality.
Thanks to that, we now we live in world where you can order things online with your phone or your voice and they’ll arrive at your home the same day.
Cyber cafe (1994)
In the early days of the internet, internet cafes began to spring up around the world. These cafes allowed the public to use the internet for a fee, a fantastic solution for those who couldn’t afford a home computer or just wanted to access the internet while out and about.
They’re far less common now – thanks to the rise of the smartphone – but in the 1990s, they were very popular indeed.
Digital Versatile Disc (1995)
DVD was the natural evolution of video recording after the popularity of Compact Disc. As a result, DVD appeared in the mid-1990s and was capable of hold 4.7GB of data as well as high-quality (for the time) video footage. DVD quickly became popular and overtook VHS as the recording format of choice in the home.
With phone technology improving, mobile phones became more intelligent with easy access to the internet, email and apps while on the go. Phones were suddenly much more than devices for making calls or sending text messages and the “smartphone” was born.
In the late 1990s, people started sending text messages stuffed with symbols representing facial expressions to help convey the emotional context of the message. So-called smilies soon commonplace place and were coded into images rather than text-based characters. Emojis soon appeared in email, text messages and social media as well as all across the web.
Social networking (1998)
Facebook wouldn’t launch until 2004, but that didn’t stop social networking getting an early foothold. Instant messaging services like ICQ, MSN Messenger and more launched around this time. These services allowed people to chat easily online and it wasn’t long before social networking sites would appear too.
Near the end of the decade, electronic paper technology was being developed to allow the display of text on a screen that looked like ordinary paper without any backlight that would cause eye strain while reading. Early e-readers and eBooks proved hit-and-miss but people were interested enough in the technology for the word to be recognised in 1999.
RSS, as the name suggests, allowed for the Really Simple Syndication of content. The first version was released in 1999 and made it easy for users to access their favourite content from multiple sites in one place with the use of an RSS reader.
RSS isn’t as popular today due to the rise of social media but is still in use across the web.
Internet of Things (2001)
The Internet of Things is the idea that devices around the home and generally in the world can be made “smart” with a connection to the internet to allow them to be controlled remotely.
An early example comes from 1982 when a cold drinks machine at Carnegie Mellon University was connected to the internet to allow it to not only report its current inventory but also to say whether the cans were cold or not.
In the early 2000s, the idea of internet-connected devices began to gain more traction and the term was recorded in common use.
Airplane mode (2002)
With the rising popularity of smartphones, it was feared that interference from devices onboard aeroplanes might cause malfunctions that could lead to them plummeting out of the sky.
As a result phone manufacturers started building in an airplane mode that could be switched on easily to prevent these problems by stopping devices from broadcasting outside signals. All voice, text and wireless signals are disabled during use, which not only saves battery but also prevents any interference that might cause problems.
Years before the rise of Netflix streaming (which didn’t launch until 2007) watching multiple TV shows back-to-back became a favourite source of entertainment for the masses. Thanks in part to DVD boxsets and on-demand/online video streaming, easy access to content made it possible for viewers to easily enjoy video from the comfort of their own home.
The term “binge-watch” was first recognised at this time and gained further mainstream use in the years that followed – becoming the word of the year according to Collins English Dictionary in 2015.
In a time when print media was making the transition to the online world, publishers were looking for a way to subsidise income. There were two routes – adverts or paid subscriptions.
The Wall Street Journal implemented the first paywall in 1996 and others followed years later, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the word was used enough to be recognised.
Blogging was already popular, but in 2005 Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr allowed people to post small snatches of their thoughts online with ease for the world to see. Microblogging as it was known, has continued to be popular in the mainstream and is used by businesses and people alike.
That concludes our list of words for now. We’re sure you’ll agree there have been some surprises over the years.