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A cultural take on tech jargon

The quickness and convenience of online dictionaries, style books and other reference works are hard to beat, especially if you're on deadline. Occasionally, though, writers, editors and readers of a certain age and obsessive temperament will revert to hard-copy versions of these resources for the Luddite thrill of it. Also so they can more easily scan pages for unfamiliar terms and waste time parsing etymologies.

Crtl + Alt + Del

San Francisco-based writer and conceptual artist Jonathon Keats seems to sympathize with both approaches to working with language. In the introduction to his latest book, Control + Alt + Delete: A Dictionary of Cyberslang (266 pp; The Lyons Press; $14.95), he points out that "language is a technology" and "technology is a language." We use one to define the other, and adapt and invent terms as innovation happens. We may not be linguists, but we're all stewards of the jargon.

Many of the definitions in Control + Alt + Delete will be familiar to readers of Keats' column in Wired magazine, "Jargon Watch." Although current usage shapes the more than 250 definitions in the book, each is also salted with Keats' opinion and reflections on its cultural relevance.

In his entry for the noun listserv ("an e-mail discussion group, devoted to a given subject, such as library science or The Sopranos"), he notes that e-mail digests are often available to listserv subscribers who don't want to receive the "boxes of response" sometimes generated by passing comments. "However," he adds, "receiving each message piecemeal is an efficient way to simulate an active social life."

Keats has crossed CNET's path before: staff writer Caroline McCarthy blogged one of his conceptual art pieces--a 4-minute, 33-second silent ringtone--back in January.