Who invented Y2K and why did it become so universally popular?

December 22, 1999|By Ted Rose

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.

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 about 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. "People were calling it Year 2000, CDC (Century Date Change), Faddle (Faulty Date Logic)," Mr. Eddy says. "There were other contenders. Y2K just came off my fingertips."

But what made Y2K flourish while its siblings withered? S.B. Master, who runs a naming company called Master-McNeil, and who has helped name products for clients, 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 because it uses just three characters; similarly structured acronyms.

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, Ms. Masters pointed out, is rhythmically superior. By contrast, Y2M ends with a redundant monothong. Ms. Masters praised Y2K for its superior sound production, noting that the term features an elegant progression, moving from soft (Y) to hard (2) to hardest (K). Y2M retreats lamely with a soft "M."

Finally, Ms. Masters lauded the term for the way its articulation produces a satisfying movement in the mouth. The term begins with a labial sound: the "Y" being formed with the lips. The "2" is alveolar; it is produced when the tongue touches the roof of the mouth. Finally, the "K" is velar, forming in the back of the mouth. That progression sets Y2K far apart from its competition.

Ted Rose wrote this for Slate magazine.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.