Steve Taylore-Knowles looks at the stories behind the English language.
Ever one to keep my finger on the pulse of technology, I’ve recently been exploring podcasts. Podcasting, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, ‘is making audio files (most commonly in MP3 format) available online in a way that allows software to automatically download the files for listening at the user's convenience’. In effect, it means that anyone can produce their own show and, if you subscribe to that ‘feed’, your computer will automatically download it for you to put on your MP3 player.
Podcast is the newest word to have featured in Word Stories. It’s also our first ‘portmanteau word’, a word that is created by packing two words into one (as Humpty Dumpty defined it for the first time in Through the Looking Glass). The two words being blended here are iPod, the proprietary name for Apple’s popular MP3 player, and broadcast.
The i- of iPod first appeared as the i- in iMac, the computer released by Apple in 1998. There, it apparently stood for ‘internet’, since the claim was that the iMac was extremely easy to connect to the internet, although Apple now uses it across a range of products so it no longer really stands for anything. The oldest use of the word pod is in the sense of a seed casing (as in pea pod), but from the mid-20th century on, it was also used to mean ‘a compartment attached to an aircraft or spacecraft’, and it’s this sense of ‘high-tech container’ that Apple seems to want to evoke.
Broadcast, with the meaning ‘send out a signal from a radio or television transmitter’, dates from the early 1920s, which was when commercial broadcasting began. Before that, broadcast had been used in the senses of ‘disseminate widely’ and ‘scatter seed’, having its roots in Old English brád (wide) and Middle English casten (throw).
Finally, here’s a little piece of trivia to entertain your dinner guests with. What does MP3 stand for? It’s actually a shortened form of ‘MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3’ (!) and ‘MPEG’ stands for ‘Moving Pictures Experts Group’, the international group responsible for developing common standards in audio and video encoding. So now you know.
If there are any aspects of English words you've always wondered about, drop me a line at [email protected] and I'll see if I can come up with an answer.