The Etymology of "Y2K"

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Dec. 15 1999 6:20 PM

The Etymology of "Y2K"

Y2K was born on Monday, June 12, 1995, at 11:31 p.m. It was delivered in the middle of an otherwise unintelligible e-mail, a contribution to an Internet discussion group of computer geeks exploring the millennium bug long before most people were surfing the World Wide Web.

Advertisement

The efficiency of the term is undeniable--"Y" for "year," the number "2," and "K" for "thousand" (from the Greek "kilo")--and it eventually caught on. But its creator remained unidentified until just over a year ago, when someone performed the equivalent of a computer paternity test by searching the discussion group's archives for the term's first use.

The father of the phrase is a 52-year-old Massachusetts programmer named David Eddy, who's now the president of a Y2K consulting business (click here to visit his Web page). "People were calling it Year 2000, CDC [Century Date Change], Faddle [Faulty Date Logic]," Eddy says. "There were other contenders. [Y2K] just came off my fingertips."

But what made Y2K flourish while its siblings withered? Chatterbox put in a call to S.B. Master, who runs a naming company called Master-McNeil (great name!). Master, who has helped name products for clients including Sun Microsystems and 3Com, performed her own "linguistic analysis" of Y2K and promptly listed six reasons why the term holds such appeal.

For starters, she said, Y2K is efficient, since it uses just three characters; similarly structured acronyms such as IBM, NBC, and GTE are a staple these days. Second, it's gratifyingly symmetrical, with the two consonants hugging that number in the middle. Third, the whole tradition of combining letters and numbers is a venerated techie convention (think R2D2 and C3P0). The date-glitch issue has obvious technical associations; thus there is a strong connection between the term's appearance and its meaning.

But none of that explains why we're not using, say, Y2M--which simply replaces the consonant representing the Greek term for thousand with the one for "mille," its Latin counterpart. Y2K, Master pointed out, is rhythmically superior. When Y2K is analyzed as poetry, one sees a satisfying alternation of long and short syllables: a diphthong (Y), followed by a monothong (2), and a final, concluding diphthong (K). By contrast, Y2M ends with a redundant monothong. Master praised Y2K for its superior sound production, noting that the term features an elegant plosive progression, moving from soft (Y) to hard (2) to hardest (K). Y2M retreats lamely with a soft "M."

Finally, Master lauded the term for the way its articulation produces a satisfying movement to the inside of the mouth. The term begins with a labial sound: the "Y" being formed with the lips. The "2" is aleveolar; it is produced at the middle of the mouth when the tongue touches the roof. Finally, the "K" is velar, forming in the back of the mouth. That progression sets Y2K far apart from its competition. In fact, Master said, she could think of only one other word that featured such an exquisitely pleasing articulatory progression in the mouth: "Monica."

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.