Technonyms

Many product names describe a benefit of the product. The name telephone, for example, tells us about a product that sends sounds across long distances. Dishwasher tells us about a product that washes dishes. I like those names. Simple and direct.

Other names tell us, not about a benefit of the product, but about a feature — in particular, about the technology on which the product is based. Cable television, for example, tells us about how the television signal is transmitted: through cables. What makes cable television better than other television? To answer that question, we need information that isn't in the name.

Over time, we often shorten that sort of name, eliminating even the category of product, and leaving only the name of the underlying technology. Cable television becomes cable. Vacuum cleaners becomes a vacuums. Microwave ovens becomes a microwaves. Even a popcorn designed to be cooked in a microwave oven becomes microwave.

I made up a word for that kind of name: technonym. A technonym is a product name that has become so abbreviated that it tells us only about the technology on which the product is based, and nothing about either the benefits of the product or even the category of product. Cable. Vacuum. Microwave. Film. Stereo. Radio.

And lately, just as I was getting used to technonyms, we're seeing a whole category of products whose names tell us about what technology the product isn't based on: wireless. Wireless telephones. Wireless networks. (Actually, referring to products as "wireless" is an old practice.)

What other technonyms do you know?

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