"real-time" = ?(of a message) instantaneous; "palfrey" = medieval warhorse; charger

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 10 00:53:35 UTC 2009

Jonathan Lighter:
> > This a.m. on CNN somebody mentioned that you can now get "real-time Tweets
> > on your Blackberry."  Sounds like the start of the Canterbury Tales.

Ben Zimmer:
> Seems to fit the definition of "real-time" given in many current
> dictionaries, such as NOAD2:
> ---
> _real-time_ (Computing) of or relating to a system in which input data
> is processed within milliseconds so that it is available virtually
> immediately as feedback, e.g., in a missile guidance or airline
> booking system: _real-time signal processing_.

> Close, Ben, but today's usage attached it to the *message* and not to the
> system itself.

I'd say the definition is inadequate. If your Blackberry is delivering
messages to you as they are posted, without delay, then you are
receiving them in real time, and "getting real-time Tweets on your
Blackberry" is not problematic at all.

Cordwainer Smith used (probably coined) the phrase "instant message"
in his 1963 story "Drunkboat". The blogger of "Eyetrouble"
(http://eyetrouble.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/instant-message/) says the

is described in the story as a kind of really expensive FTL telegraph
between the Earth and distant planets [...]. So, anyway, I’m going to
go ahead and propose that Mr. Smith’s mention of IM was the first ever
use of that term in the modern sense (although I guess none of us in
the unfictional world text or IM at superluminal speeds, no matter how
fast we type).

However, in the story the term was not applied to the system that
transmitted the messages but to the messages themselves, just as
"real-time" is used here. The blogger doesn't observe that
distinction. Compare the extension of "email" from a non-count noun
denoting the system to a count noun denoting a message.

The following comes from what seems to be an archived Wikipedia entry
on "Instant messaging"
The current article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant_messaging)
makes no mention of Smith.

Origin of term

The phrase "instant message" was devised by Paul M. A. Linebarger for
a gimmick in the science-fiction stories he wrote in the 1960s under
the pseudonym Cordwainer Smith . His instant messages were to be
across interstellar distances at speeds faster than that of light, and
said to be expensive so he could write plots concerning their
unaffordability. From there, the phrase was picked up by members of
New England Science Fiction Association , many of whom were computer
professionals, for their weekly mimeograph ed newsletter. The phrase
may have come from there. It should be noted that America Online did
not originally refer to their own IM service as an instant messenger.
The early software releases referred to it as "FlashMail." Early users
spoke of "flashing" one another, which was probably one reason that
the name was changed.

m a m

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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