Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Donald Trump's Use of the Word "Cyber" is Maddening

It is easy to make merry with Donald Trump’s grammar and elocution, his bizarre and byzantine flow, but for the most part I try not to go to that well too often, as deep as it may be. He broke out an old chestnut in tonight’s debate that has long been a bur in my saddle though, so I thought I’d outline it.

Trump’s understanding of the word, cyber is utterly fractured. In its purest usage, it’s not really a word. It is part of the word, cybernetics, which was coined in 1948 by a US mathematician to describe his study of devices that performed tasks at the behest of human beings. It derives from a Greek metaphor for navigation.

For a long time it was strictly a prefix for words, and a popular one at that. Cyberpunk, cyberspace and cybersex are just a few of the favorites, but more than one hundred words were coined in the 1990s that used cyber as a prefix, usually invoking computers interfacing with human realities. Somewhere along the way, cyber indeed became its own word, but it is always used as an adjective, and even subsequent to its newfound independence as a word on its own, it is almost always used in conjunction with another word. 

In any case, there is no such noun as cyber, as it by itself does not complete any kind of a thought. In its inception, cybernetics, cyber served as an adjectival prefix and in its solitary use, it may only be used as an adjective.

But Trump bloviates that we need to “get better at cyber,” and that "the Chinese are killing us in cyber." An impossible task. We can no more get better at cyber than the Chinese can kill us at it. We can develop newer, more sophisticated weapons of cyberwarfare. We can get better at defending against cyberterrorism. But we cannot get better at cyber.