Suffix It to Say

The tech world's lexicon is full of funny suffixes

PHOTO: Greg Mably

Implicated in ”the Volgagate” are a group of liberal officers who were caught removing bugs from telephones [and] mixing actual letters and telegrams from Soviet citizens in with the usual phony ones. --National Lampoon, August 1973

In the wake of a political scandal, inevitably editorialists will harrumph and scold, angry citizens will write angry letters, and some wag columnist will tack the suffix -gate onto the name of whatever person, place, or thing is most closely associated with the kerfuffle. The citation above is the first recorded use of the -gate neologism (albeit in a humor magazine), but there have been dozens, nay, hundreds in the years since Watergate, the ur- gate.

The workhorse in tech circles is -ware , short for software . This suffix has programmed itself into such classics as freeware (free software), shareware (software that you can use before purchasing), and vaporware (a software product announced but not delivered). The dozens of recent variations include abandonware (the company that wrote the code has gone out of business), beerware (the purchase ”price” is to buy the developer a beer or drink a beer in the developer’s name), careware (the developer asks each user to do a good deed or donate something to charity), coasterware (named for the recommended use for the CD containing the software), crimeware (facilitates identity theft, phishing, or similar criminal activity), heroinware (an extremely addictive computer game), ransomware (encrypts a person’s computer files and demands a ransom to decrypt them), retroware (two or three versions earlier than the current version), slideware (vaporware that currently exists only as a series of slides in a marketing presentation), and terrorware (software used by terrorists). And let’s not forget wearware , a word that goes back at least to a 2003 IEEE Computer article about wearable computers.

The suffix -free is handy for saying that something lacks a quality or feature. The model for this is fat-free , which has spun off umpteen healthy variations, including calorie-free, cholesterol-free, salt-free, MSG-free , and even peanut-free . Tech varieties include content-free (a message big on style but lacking in substance), fact-free (a scientific endeavor that doesn’t take into account real-world constraints such as chemical or biological data), and office-free (a person who uses technology to maintain remote connections to his office network and colleagues).

We live in a world where, it seems, everyone is addicted to something—and therefore is easily labeled by tacking on the -aholic (also: -holic , -oholic ) suffix. The term alcoholic has spawned workaholic, foodaholic , and chocoholic . Some addicts in need of high-tech 12-step programs are webaholics (the Web), Twitterholics (Twitter), gameaholics (computer games in general), and Warcraft-aholics ( World of Warcraft in particular).

Another suffix to watch is -rati (or sometimes -erati ), which indicates the elite or the intelligentsia of a particular group. The original is literati : the literary intelligentsia or the educated class. Recent variations on the theme include digerati (the digital literati), jitterati (over-caffeinated digerati), geekerati (elite members of the digerati), blogerati (big-time bloggers), and Twitterati (those with the most Twitter followers).

If tech types want to describe the people, products, services, and technologies belonging to or associated with something, they simply attach the suffix -verse (short for universe ): Googleverse (Google), Twitterverse (Twitter), gamerverse (gamers or gaming), and wikiverse (Wikipedia, or wikis in general). A similar (but perhaps slightly broader) suffix is -sphere (or -osphere ; both come from atmosphere ), which gets quite a workout these days: blogosphere (blogs and bloggers), chatosphere (chat rooms and instant messaging), spamosphere (junk e-mail messages and purveyors), twitosphere (yes, Twitter again), and webosphere (the Web).

The OED defines lallapaloosa as ”something outstandingly good of its kind” and gives an earliest citation from 1904. Tech spin-offs take their cue from the variant spelling lollapalooza, which was the name of a series of popular multiband, alternative music summer tours in the 1990s. The suffix -palooza (or -apalooza ), which, depending on the context, denotes either a large gathering or something excessive, has been sighted in the wild in blogapalooza (bloggers), botapalooza (robots), techpalooza (technology), and twitapalooza (those guys yet again). That’s it for Suffixpalooza 2009!

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