Words Change Over Time

By Joan Hertel


The computer industry has introduced such words as “hardware”, “mouse”, and “port.” Different countries use the same word but with different meanings. As technical communication as a field grows into the future, we need to remember that words evolve. It will be up to the technical communicator to use words that have the best fit. Below are the definitions of three words that have had their meaning added to because of the computer industry. The main definitions are all taken from OneLook® Dictionary Search located at located at http://www.onelook.com.

Hardware -  The word hardware is a noun with three definitions. First, it is major item of military weaponry (as in tanks or missiles). Second, according to Wikipedia located at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardware, it is equipment such as fasteners, keys, locks, hinges, wire, chains, plumbing supplies, tools, utensils, cutlery and machine parts, especially when they are made of metal. An additional comment made on Wikipedia is that in the United States, hardware has been traditionally sold in "hardware stores". The third definition is from the emergence of the computer industry. Hardware is defined as the mechanical, magnetic, electronic, and electrical components that make up a computer system.

Port - The word port is a noun that indicates an opening for firing through, a sweet dark-red dessert wine originally from Portugal, a place where people and merchandise can enter or leave a country, the left side of a ship or aircraft to someone facing the bow or nose, or the newest definition, a computer circuit consisting of the hardware and associated circuitry that links one device with another. The Australian English Macquarie Dictionary located at http://www.macquariedictionary.com.au. lists the word port as derived from portmanteau and is defined as a suitcase or shopping bag.

Mouse - The word mouse seems simple, but is it? OneLook® Dictionary Search lists the word mouse as a noun indicating “any of numerous small rodents typically resembling diminutive rats having pointed snouts and small ears on elongated bodies with slender usually hairless tails.” The other meaning for mouse is “a hand-operated electronic device that controls the coordinates of a cursor on your computer screen as you move it around on a pad.” The latter definition is the newest definition courtesy of the computer industry. What else is a mouse? Mouse is used as slang in Great Britain. Also, mouse has five acronyms according to STANDS4.com, an acronym and abbreviation online dictionary. Mouse stands for:


       Manually Oscillating Utensil Sonically Engaged
A Masters Of Underhanded Surgical Ethics
Making Opportunities For Upgrading Schools And Education
Move Objects U See Easily
Minimum Orbital Unmanned Satellite of Earth (Acronym Finder)

Why bring up the definitions of these words? When writing documentation it is important to be clear and precise as technical communicators. What does a word mean? Sometimes it pays to research a word to assure that we are saying what we mean. Technical communicators need to be aware of new words that evolve from new technologies. This is one of the many challenges of the technical writer, tracking words that change over time.


OneLook® Dictionary Search online. (2004).  Retrieved on October 14, 2004, from http://www.onelook.com.

Wikipedia. (2001-2004). Retrieved on October 14, 2004, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardware.

The Macquarie Book of Slang.  (2004)  Retrieved on October 14, 2004, from          http://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/anonymous@FF839195591+0/-/p/dict/slang-p.html.

Ted Duckworth. (2004). A dictionary of Slang online (6th ed.)  Retrieved on October 14, 2004, from http://www.peevish.co.uk/slang/p.htm

STANDS4.com® .  (2004).  Retrieved on October 14, 2004, from http://www.stands4.com/browsesearch.asp?SEARCH=MOUSE.