The Glib Factor - Segment 3: The D-e-valuation of Language
By A. D. Freudenheim

4 February 2001

In a short-and-sweet leap from the term "e-mail," the letter "e" has become the reigning prefix of our age. No longer just a silent "e" now, almost passé in its usage - it has been several years since e-mail became only one of many e-terms - we can thank the combined efforts of the technology geeks and the marketing gurus of big business for helping to evolve our already sophisticated use of language one step further. These days, nearly everything can be reduced to its internet-based common denominator through the addition of "e-" (or where that fails, the slightly more sophisticated-sounding "cyber"). Some of the most common examples include e-commerce, e-strategy, e-business, and e-networking, to name only a few. Even evaluation has been hyphenated to "e-valuation."

In and of itself this hardly spells the death of the human race, nor does it predict too many other glum disasters. It is a common human trend to reduce words, phrases, and names to their shortest recognizable form, and it arguably indicates linguistic sophistication that normally we require little further education in order to understand what these new words mean. Once the basic intent of the "e-" prefix is understood, comprehending a compound word such as "e-commerce" is fairly simple.

Nonetheless, there are reasons for concern. Sometimes, shifts in language indicate transitions in society, and evolution of our perspective on a given topic. Since language is our primary means for communicating with each other, the words we assign do have some e-weight or e-value. Looking at the example of e-terms, then: is e-commerce substantively different from other kinds of commerce? Because the transactional aspect of the buying and selling takes place using a web browser or other internet-related technology, is a new word needed to describe that exchange?

The answer is: no. Perhaps upon its initial introduction to our lives we needed new terminology to describe the internet. However at this e-stage, by accepting and r-e-using these words, we are implicitly acknowledging and reinforcing e-distinctions between the internet world and e-verything e-lse - distinctions that, by and large, do not really e-xist. For example, look at the stock markets: tremendous (and tremendously risky) e-investments in new internet firms have been based almost e-xclusively on the perceived value of these new technologies, e-ven though the vast majority of these e-businesses have little hope of surviving (or e-ven competing) in the open market. And while investors have occasionally abandoned otherwise solid e-companies who appear not to be using technology e-ffectively enough, a tremendous shift of e-wealth has taken place in this process, as investors have poured billions of e-dollars into firms almost entirely on the basis of the cachet of e-business.

This e-xtends to our personal lives, too. E-dating, e-romance - these terms suggest an alternate way not just to meet new people but to live with them, yet the experience of e-communicating with someone e-xtensively over e-mail cannot replace the actual e-xperience of living with that person 365 days a year. We have fooled ourselves into the belief that because the technology provides an e-asy interface for e-xchanging information, the information we have e-xchanged is more valuable.

So, e-nough with allowing the false gods of marketing to infect our language and pollute our communications with e-speak. Let the e-geeks go back to the rocks they were hiding under. If the price we must pay for the internet is the corruption of common words into utterly meaningless derivations, we must be concerned with where the original words went. The answer may be quite obvious, and if we're not careful the same thing could happen to us.

Those basic, unsullied, un-prefixed words have become nearly e-xtinct.

Copyright 2001, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.