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Virtual Words: Language from the Edge of Science and Technology [Hardcover]

Jonathon Keats

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Book Description

Oct. 28 2010
The technological realm provides an unusually active laboratory not only for new ideas and products but also for the remarkable linguistic innovations that accompany and describe them. How else would words like qubit (a unit of quantum information), sock puppet (an illicit online alternate identity), or in vitro meat (chicken and beef grown in a laboratory) enter our language?

In Virtual Words: Language from the Edge of Science and Technology, Jonathon Keats, author of Wired Magazine's monthly Jargon Watch column, investigates the interplay between words and ideas in our fast-paced tech-driven use-it-or-lose-it society. In 45 illuminating short essays, Keats examines how such words get coined, what relationship they have to their subject matter, and why some, like blog, succeed while others, like flog, fail. Divided into broad categories - such as euphemism, polemic, jargon, and slang, in addition to scientific and technological neologisms - chapters each consider one exemplary word, its definition, origin, context, and significance. Examples range from cybrid (a human-animal hybrid embryo) and unparticle (a form of matter lacking definite mass) to gene foundry (a laboratory where microbes are built) and blackhawk (a combative helicopter parent). Together these words provide not only a survey of technological invention and its consequences, but also a fascinating glimpse of novel language as it comes into being. No one knows this emerging lexical terrain better than Jonathon Keats, and in writing that is as inventive and engaging as the language it describes, Virtual Words offers endless delights for word-lovers, technophiles, and anyone intrigued by the essential human obsession with naming.

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"Clever and humorous... Whether you are among the people or the tweeple, you are sure to be educated and entertained."
-New Scientist

"In this clever, no-nonsense essay collection, Wired magazine's "Jargon Watch" columnist Keats examines the relationship between emerging and evolving language and technological development."
-Chicago Tribune

"What's not to like about Jonathon Keats? His new book, Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology, comprises 28 short essays in which he looks at the relationship between words and ideas in our modern high-tech culture. It's brainy stuff, but he is never less than interesting when he tries to figure out the significance of expressions such as "crowd-sourcing," "w00t," and "in vitro meat" entering the lexicon."
- SF Weekly

"At its best, Virtual Words is the work of an amateur in the old sense, of an interested mind sharing the stories of a world that fascinates him. ELSo perhaps this is a book of enthusiasm-not enthusiasm for the novelty of new words, nor for the preservation of the old, but the enthusiasm of an engaged mind focused and sharing its fascination. Virtual Words reminds one that language is not only alive, but lively."
International Journal of Communication

"Scifi artist and novelist Jonathon Keats' new book, Virtual Words, is an eloquent exploration of words and phrases that we're using to describe our future-science world."

"Our knowledge of science and technology shapes our understanding of the world, right down to the terminology we use. Virtual words is a deep, forward-looking exploration of nomenclature at the cutting edge of science and technology, written with genuine erudition and wit."
- Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist

"In a complicated chiasmus, [Keats] remarks, "The language of technology and science illuminates the science and technology of language." That interconnectedness is well brought out in this book."
-Michael Quinion, WorldWideWords

About the Author

Jonathon Keats writes the Jargon Watch column for Wired Magazine, and has covered science, technology and language, as well as literature and the arts, for dozens of publications including the Washington Post, Popular Science, Scientific American, and He is the author of two novels, The Pathology of Lies and Lighter Than Vanity, and a story collection, The Book of the Unknown, and is the recipient of Yaddo and MacDowell fellowships. He lives in San Francisco and northern Italy.

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