On Words, sort of

Recently LinkedIn got hacked and a lot of people’s passwords were compromised. And the overwhelming reaction was sort of a cross between a yawn and an eye roll (well, except for the folks at LinkedIn, that is). I was thinking about that when I was driving in to work today.

What was the motivation, really? What can really be achieved by hacking into someone’s LinkedIn account? I was thinking about how there are the hackers who are money thieves, the hackers who do something to cause trouble, and the hackers who do something to see if they can (and some are all three or some other combination thereof). I don’t know a lot about hackers, but this isn’t about hackers.

So then I was thinking about how hacking into LinkedIn probably wasn’t about getting money (or maybe it is, but that’s not where my thinking was going), and somehow then I started thinking about phishing schemes and how that is a sucky way to be parted with your money. Then I started wondering why it’s called “phishing” when these schemes, when executed by phone or regular mail are called “fishing”. Why the “ph”? Why not “e-fishing”? Both are hopelessly 1997 in resonance, so why did the misspelling win out?

Then, as naturally one would, I began thinking of “phat” versus “fat” and how the former meant, at one point, something along the lines of “cool” and the other meant what it’s always meant, but no such spelling revision was undertaken for “ill” meaning something like “cool” nor “sick” meaning the same.

At what point do we think we need to reconstruct words when we appropriate their meanings? Or is that a fad that’s already passed? Both “phat” and “phishing” are from the same era, so perhaps there was something more freewheeling about the time that encouraged re-spellings.

2 responses to “On Words, sort of”

  1. I am loving your blog, and I just had to comment on this entry (not only because it follows the same stream-of-consciousness leaps from topic to topic that I often find myself doing). I decided to look up the term “phishing,” and Merriam Webster says that it was probably influenced by the term phreaking: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phreaking

    You know, in case you were still thinking about this months later.


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