Origins of "Wi-Fi"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Nov 9 08:21:05 UTC 2005

This post on the Boing Boing blog should be valuable for the OED or any
other dictionary needing an etymology for "Wi-Fi"...


Tuesday, November 8, 2005
WiFi isn't short for "Wireless Fidelity"

Last week, I wrote in passing about how WiFi doesn't "stand for" wireless
fidelity. It's a pun on "Hi-Fi" and "wireless fidelity" doesn't mean
anything. Innumerable correspondants wrote in to say that the Wi-Fi
Alliance said different. I disagreed -- and still argue that a litmus test
for whether a given article on WiFi is likely to be ill-informed is
whether it takes pains to utter the nonsense, non-instructive phrase,
"WiFi (short for 'wireless fidelity')" -- proof of this principle can be
found in Westchester County's boilerplate justification for its amazingly
dumb anti-open-WiFi legislation proposal.

Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance who presided over
the selection of the name "Wi-Fi" writes:

    Wi-Fi doesn't stand for anything.

    It is not an acronym. There is no meaning.

    Wi-Fi and the ying yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. We
(the founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance,
now called the Wi-Fi Alliance) hired Interbrand to come up with the
name and logo that we could use for our interoperability seal and
marketing efforts. We needed something that was a little catchier than
"IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence". Interbrand created "Prozac", "Compaq"
"oneworld", "Imation" and many other brand names that you have heard
of. They even created the company name "Vivato".

    The only reason that you hear anything about "Wireless Fidelity" is
some of my colleagues in the group were afraid. They didn't understand
branding or marketing. They could not imagine using the name "Wi-Fi"
without having some sort of literal explanation. So we compromised and
agreed to include the tag line "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity"
along with the name. This was a mistake and only served to confuse
people and dilute the brand. For the first year or so( circa 2000) ,
this would appear in all of our communications. I still have a hat and
a couple of golf shirts with the tag line. Later, when Wi-Fi was
becoming more successful and we got some marketing and business people
from larger companies on the board, the alliance dropped the tag-line.

    This tag line was invented after the fact. After we chose the name
Wi-Fi from a list of 10 names that Interbrand proposed. The tag line
was invented by the initial six member board and it does not mean
anything either. If you decompose the tag line, it falls apart very
quickly. "The Standard"? The Wi-Fi Alliance has always been very
careful to stay out of inventing standards. The standard of interest
is IEEE 802.11. The Wi-Fi Alliance focuses on interoperability
certification and branding. It does not invent standards. It does not
compete with IEEE. It complements their efforts. So Wi-Fi could never
be a standard. And "Wireless Fidelity" - what does that mean? Nothing.
It was a clumsy attempt to come up with two words that matched Wi and
Fi. That's it.

    So we were smart to hire Interbrand to come up with the name and logo.
We were dumb to confuse and water down their efforts by adding the
meaningless tag line. Please help reinforce the good work that we did
and forget the tag line.

posted by Cory Doctorow at 05:43:55 AM

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