Geek Trivia

Which Of These Technology Terms Is Made Up And Not A Cultural Reference Or Portmanteau?

Which Computer Was The First To Ship With A Mouse?

Answer: Wi-Fi

There are tons of technology terms floating around us every day that have firm roots that can be connected to existing words, contractions, or cultural references. Ethernet, the ubiquitous wired network standard? Robert Metcalfe, a computer scientist who co-developed it at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, named it after the “ether”, the material people used to believe existed in space between the Sun and the Earth to serve as a propagation medium for light. Bluetooth? The Bluetooth wireless protocol was created at Ericsson Mobile and the term Bluetooth is a direct nod to the nickname of a very famous Danish king, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson (even the Bluetooth symbol is a bind rune of Harald’s initials). Emoticons? Just a portmanteau of the words “emotion” and “icon” since an emoticon is meant to iconographically portray an emotion.

With that in mind, it would be easy to assume that “Wi-Fi” stood for something. Alas, despite the absolutely ubiquity of Wi-Fi in the modern world, there’s no fun backstory. It doesn’t stand for “wireless fidelity” despite how often that claim is repeated. It stands for… nothing. It’s not a contraction, an acronym, or a portmanteau. In fact, the whole “wireless fidelity” thing was applied after the fact. The reality is that the organization that would become the Wi-Fi Alliance simply selected “Wi-Fi” because it was easy to say, had a nice balance to it, and was a bit of a pun on the old stereo “Hi-Fi” terminology. Later, when the marketing people for the organization were pressed for an explanation, they claimed that the term was shorthand for “wireless fidelity” (a play on the term “high fidelity”) and for a very brief period around the year 2000 (until the Alliance put an end it), the retroactively applied phrase was used frequently in the media. In reality, however, there was never any wireless fidelity, only Wi-Fi.

Image courtesy of the Wi-Fi Alliance.