How Technology Changes the Meaning of Familiar Words

by Melissa Burns

Contrary to what some people would like it to be, language is not static – it is a living being, rapidly evolving to answer the demands of changing reality. Sometimes old and familiar words unexpectedly acquire new meanings, often overshadowing original ones. And technology is one of the most important agents of change in this respect. Here we’ve gathered some of the most popular words of this kind.


“Stream” used to denote any rapidly flowing body of water; today, however, the word is more likely to be associated with media continuously delivering data to the end user in unedited form (usually video or audio).


The word “thing” has often been noted to be one of the vaguest and polysemic words in the English language – in various contexts it can mean almost anything. However, when used as a part of “Internet of Things” expression it denotes a ‘smart’ device, a part of a network of such devices capable of performing activities without human interaction.


“To feed” means “to give someone food”, and a noun converted from this word is what this food is called (usually when referred to animal’s food). Today we probably more often use this word in relation to RSS: a format that is used to publish frequently updated content like blogs or news.


Traditionally, “tag” means either a children’s game or a piece of paper on a product in a shop that shows its price. In modern computing, this word has a host of meanings in different areas, ranging from HTML tags (an element of HTML language used in formatting web pages) to keywords assigned to pieces of information so that they can be easily found later on.


“Viral” used to be simply an adjective meaning “related to a virus, having properties of a virus”. Today it is almost exclusively used to describe a situation when something – usually an Internet meme or an advertising campaign - rapidly expands, becomes known to large numbers of people and acquires immense popularity more by itself than due to the efforts of its originators.


Contrary to popular opinion, this modern word defining a person luring unsuspecting individuals into pointless arguments for his own amusement is most likely derived not from the species of ugly mythical creatures, but from “trolling” – a method of fishing involving slowly dragging a lure from a moving boat.

And what words that changed their meanings into something unexpected can you think of?

About the writer

Melissa is a passionate blogger and journalist. She's also a freelancer and runs her content marketing agency


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