As I was speaking with Brad Gosse about the name for a new Twitter application, we discussed how these “Web 2.0” names have cropped up more and more in the last few years. We also remarked on how we just accept these new words and brand names at face value and accept them – no matter how silly.

However, if you are into technology or on the web, many people become familiar with these names and terms – they just seem to know what they are and what they do.

When words become verbs

As a result, strange words tend to “grow” on you and eventually turn into verbs. For example, “I skyped my mom this morning” is a completely acceptable sentence in my household. Brand names turn into common nouns – as in “your podcast wasn’t the best I’ve heard from you” or “click on the Twitter logo, I said!”

This is nothing new though – Kleenex is a brand name. And Google requests that it is not used as a verb – as in “I googled you last night”.

Dumb terminals for thin clients?

The latest word I’ve struggled with is smartphone. Chris Herborth tells me it is a legacy term held over from the former era of “dumb terminals” and “smart terminals”. Dumb terminals (also known as thin clients) were only used as input/output devices and relied on another computer for their real processing power. Smart terminals were able to rely on their own processing power and could perform more functions. Therefore, we use the phrase smartphone because we use the handsets for much more than just calling our friends and family.

The most interesting thing is that the term smartphone is used only when referring to other brands other than the iPhone. It seems an iPhone is in a class all to itself. I usually ask people – do you use an iPhone or a smartphone? I must change this question to be – what kind of smartphone do you use? Or, what kind of web phone do you use?

Smart marketing

Marketers have latched onto it though – implying that you are “dumb” if you do not have a “smart” phone. Doesn’t everyone want to be smart?

Word origins can be fascinating to research if you are into words and how they evolve. Have a look at the word telephone.

PS: This may reveal my geeky side a bit too much, but if you get a chance, watch the Star Trek Next Generation episode where Picard speaks only using metaphors. No one could understand him unless they were a part of the community which knew the history behind those metaphors. This is probably how my five-year-old daughter feels when I start talking about social media.

Susan Varty is a freelance technical writer who specializes in user guides, training manuals and last-minute proposal preparation. Throughout her career, Susan has worked for IBM, Compuware and Franklin Templeton Investments. Feel free to contact her through her website at or read an article about her on Business Consulting Buzz.