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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 16:06 GMT
Dot.com: Just a bit too dot.common?



Remember the "information superhighway"?

If you do, perhaps you'll also remember when "surfers logged on to the worldwide web"?

E-cyclopedia
These terms were once almost ubiquitous, but now seem almost antiquated.

Perhaps it's a sign of how quickly the wired world is evolving that the language is having a job keeping up.

But one phrase has recently come to the aid of journalists reporting on the flurry of internet-related business which the UK has seen in the last few weeks.

Instead of having to write the cumbersome words "internet-related business", as above, they have had the admirable piece of shorthand "dot.com" to play with.

They love it because it says everything they need in just seven characters, and also adds a bit of hip jargon to their article.



Just three of Friday's headlines
As the graph above illustrates, a trawl through newspaper back issues shows that dot.com appeared in 427 articles in UK papers last month.

In February 1999, it appeared in just six.

One soothsayer, Kurt Andersen, whose acclaimed novel Turn of the Century last year predicted what life in 2000 would be like, may have hit the nail on the head. In it, two characters speculate that it will only be a matter of months before saying the words dot.com will be laughably archaic.

Internet clichés
Information superhighway
Cyberspace
Cybercafés
Cybersex
New media
Surfing
Nerds, geeks and whizz-kids
Digital age
Using @ instead of the letters "at" in a word, eg "the c@ s@ on the m@"
"e-" followed by anything (except the word "cyclopedia")
The biggest threat is probably its own popularity. As it is a world in which people like to sound well-informed, using a hackneyed phrase will only undermine credibility.

Jonathon Green, author of the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, says it is probably the first hot new phrase of the new century. "That's satisfying and as it should be, as it's cutting-edge technology. But when it all explodes and they haven't got any money left, we'll have to find a new word for them, exdot.coms or something."

Nicholas Bagnall, who writes about words for the Independent on Sunday, thinks the phrase will soon have had its day.

"It's a mayfly of a cliché. There are some clichés which will go on forever, like 'dog's breakfast', or 'snowball's chance in hell'. But some don't last because people get bored with them.

"Anything 'dot.com' is very exciting now, because people think the internet's a new thing. Well, it's not all that new now, and soon every dog will have its own computer."

One group of people particularly affected by the rapid change of language is compilers of dictionaries of computer terms.



Lastminute.com's Martha Lane Fox, riding the dot.com craze
John Daintith, whose company Market House Books writes the Oxford Dictionary of Computing, says new editions are published every two to three years to keep up with the new terms.

"It does cause problems. It's a general problem in any science or technical field, but it's true about computers particularly because the industry moves so quickly.

"The way we deal with it is to have a panel, mostly of academics, who find new terms every time we revise the books."

The ideal, he says, was for the dictionaries to be online so they could be updated continuously.

And, without a hint of irony, he says his dictionary is itself expected to go on the internet.

So that'll probably be the Oxford-dictionary-of-computing.com. E-cyclopedia can be contacted at e-cyclopedia@bbc.co.uk
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