Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age

Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age

by Constance Hale, Jessie Scanlon

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Wired magazine's top editors have weighed thousands of new terms, phrases, idioms, and usages of the language since the advent of the global village. Elements of Style is no longer sufficient as a guide to English usage--Wired America needs Wired Style.


Wired magazine's top editors have weighed thousands of new terms, phrases, idioms, and usages of the language since the advent of the global village. Elements of Style is no longer sufficient as a guide to English usage--Wired America needs Wired Style.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
A handy, handsome, little book . . . More than a stylebook, (it's) also a guide to, or justification of, a distinctive flavor of writing.
Entertainment Weekly
Refreshingly concise . . . A must-have for content providers and an enlightenment for those simply curious about the state of language.
Library Journal
Everyone today is traveling the information superhighway, surfing the net, sending and receiving E-mail, and creating a homepage. Along with the digital revolution come big changes in our language and word usage. The editors of Wired magazine take up these changes in this product of their new publishing division. The work looks at how the digital age has changed the way we write; it sets out to give a new set of rules to use along with Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style. A large part of the book is lists of words and acronyms with definitions, e.g., "IRLin real lifeOnline shorthand. All caps." The book looks like the magazine without the color; the binding is hardcover with concealed wire-o and slipcase. This interesting, artful, and inexpensive edition will find a niche in most collections. Lisa J. Cihlar, Winfield P. L., Ill.

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Broadway Books
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Writers today must navigate the shifting verbal currents of the post-Gutenberg era. When does jargon end and a new vernacular begin? Where's the line between neologism and hype? What's the language of the global village? How can we keep pace with technology without getting bogged down in buzzwords? Is it possible to write about machines without losing a sense of humanity and poetry?

Traditional style manuals tend to be starchy, and offer little help in writing fluently and colloquially in and about the digital world. Wired Style is intended to complement those guides by digging into questions that writers and editors confront daily--questions of style and substance that Chicago and AP (not to mention Strunk & White) don't even imagine.

You might call Wired Style an experiment in nonlinear, networked editing. When a new technical term, a bullshit buzzword, or an especially gnarly acronym hits our screens, we send emails to various editors and style divas. Wired Style is the result of these online discussions, which are guided by actual usage rather than rigid rules. When it comes to a choice between what's on the Web and what's in Webster's, we tend to go with the Web. Like new media, Wired Style is dynamic and rule-averse. (Beware: the digital dictions in this book will soon ache for updates and clarifications. Please feel free to ply us with questions by emailing wiredstyle@wired.com.)

This book reflects Wired's fascination with science and technology and the lexicons evolving out of those worlds. We assume an informed and inquisitive audience--readers familiar with, or at least curious about, the esoterica of our subject. Our style is notto tell the techies of the world to eschew jargon and adopt New Yorker grammar; nor is it to force jargon on journalists content to dwell in analog subject areas. We are trying to convey the excitement of technological innovations--in the language of those who create them.

We don't dumb things down. We don't shrink from experimentation. And as we push the boundaries of language and form, we follow 10 principles. The first five relate to prose style--how to write well in an ever-changing mediascape of email, glossies, Web sites, and biz pages. The second five relate to copy-editing style--how to spell and punctuate the new terms barraging us daily. We hope these principles can guide you and give you a feel for the way language is evolving as we head into the next millennium. . . .


Abilene Project

Named for an ambitious railroad established on the Kansas frontier during the 1860s, Abilene is a high-speed backbone and a testbed for advanced technologies such as multicasting. Officially launched in April 1998 by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development, Abilene spans more than 10,000 miles, links 37 universities at 2.4 billion bps, and is 1,600 times faster than a T-1. See Internet2.


The meaning of the suffix isn't so mysterious: "capable of being.'' It's the spelling of certain words that remains perplexing, especially tech neologisms and nouns ending in e: clickable, downloadable, emailable, hackable, manageable, scalable, upgradable. Use this rule of thumb: keep the e after a soft c, a soft g, and sometimes a z.


A noun indicating the ability to log on to the Internet or another network. Or the ability to plug in to the network of VCs with bucks to burn.


Founded in 1947, the Association for Computing Machinery is a major fraternity for computing professionals, the sponsor of innumerable conferences and workshops (the Special Interest Group or Sig- series, as in Siggraph), and the publisher of a widely respected newsletter.

The ACM is so prominent in cyberculture that science fiction writer Neal Stephenson even appropriated the name (if not the exact identity) in Snow Crash: "The dimensions of the Street are fixed by a protocol, hammered out by the computer-graphics ninja overlords of the Association for Computing Machinery's Global Multimedia Protocol Group.''


Programming language used by the DOD and named after Lady Augusta Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace and daughter of Lord Byron. In 1843, at the age of 28, Ada developed the mathematical and theoretical designs for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (see Difference Engine), making her the mother of computer programming.


It began its life as an adjective but now also works as a noun (hyphen intact) for a piece of software or hardware designed to enhance the performance of another system. A synonym, when you're talking software, is plug-in.


The Advanced Encryption Standard is the US government's next-generation, 128-bit crypto algorithm. In January 1999, the cryptocrats at NIST advised Uncle Sam to revise the current standard, noting that cracking DES has become increasingly more feasible given advances in technology. AES should hit the Net by January 1, 2002.


As far as I know--online, that is.


Short for autonomous agent. Think of an agent as an entity that learns your preferences and then independently does things for you within a physical or virtual environment. It might be a robot, might be an auctionbot, might be a Web spider. It might retrieve info, filter incoming email, or recommend music.

Or it might just disappoint. Like artificial intelligence, agent technologies have yet to deliver the long-promised digital Jeeves. See bot.


For the full treatment, see artificial intelligence. The acronym is acceptable on first reference, and is often used as a noun--"an AI'' is a thinking and nonbreathing thing.


Named for the ninth-century Arab mathematician Al-Khowarizmi, the term denotes any system or method for solving a problem. These rhythms set the beat of the computer age.


On a Mac, it's a pointer icon--usually kept on the desktop--that opens an application or file stored in another location. Unix geeks create aliases to replace long, bulky text commands.


An adjective--which sometimes stands alone as a noun--describing the precommercial, internal release of software or hardware. Then comes the beta release, which may be public. There is no gamma release--that's called the market.


Pronounced "alt-dot,'' this Usenet prefix refers to the for-fun newsgroups created freely by users: alt.zines, alt.aol.sucks, alt.culture.hawaii, alt.fan.drew_barrymore.

In colloquial contexts, "alt.'' has become shorthand for "alternative'' and "hip.'' It can be used as a catchphrase independent of Usenet, as in the headline of a story about an online dispute--titled "alt.scientology.war.''


The MITS Altair 8800 was the do-it-yourself computer kit that sparked the PC revolution. The machine, which graced the cover of Popular Electronics in January 1975, shipped on March 26 of that year with an 8080 CPU and a 256-byte RAM card. Its price--400 bucks. Its name--an homage to the Star Trek episode "A Voyage to Altair.''

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